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School Avoidance

Some youngsters for one reason or another are afraid to go to school. Although they may pretend to be sick now and then, they may also have psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, and chest pain, which are triggered by emotions, but real nonetheless. Not surprisingly, aches and pains related to tension tend to vanish over the weekend and during holidays.

What You Can Do

Talk to your teenager about why she doesn’t want to go to school. This is a time for compassion; obviously she is hurting. Assure her that you will do everything you can to resolve whatever it is that is causing her so much distress.

Contact the principal, guidance counselor and school nurse, and make them aware of the situation. If you discover that your son or daughter is being harassed or bullied at school, insist that the administration put a stop to it at once. All students should be able to pursue their education in an atmosphere free of verbal abuse or threats of violence from other children.

On days when you do decide to let an anxious youngster stay home from school, do not accord him any special treatment. This shouldn’t be misconstrued as a holiday. He is not to receive visitors, and unless he is truly feeling under the weather, some time should be spent on any previously assigned homework.

After you’ve taken steps to rectify the upsetting circumstances, insist that your teen return to school immediately. Be sympathetic yet firm. Explain that every member of the family has a job to do, and hers is to attend school. Steel yourself to protests or pleas such as, “I’m not ready to go back yet! Just let me stay home one more day!” Frequently, the feeling of panic seizes youngsters as they walk out the front door; once in school, they usually calm down.

Severe phobias may require a gradual reentry to school. For instance:

  • Day one: attending a favorite class or two, then going home.
  • Day two: spending half a day in school.
  • Day three: back to full days.

Obtain permission for your child to take refuge in the nurse’s office or principal’s office should the pressure be too overwhelming. A staff member can calm her down and, it is hoped, encourage her to go to her next class.

After five days of anxiety-related absences from school, it’s time to visit your pediatrician. He or she can rule out physical illness as the cause of symptoms, as well as refer you to a mental-health professional if necessary.

Last Updated
Caring for Your Teenager (Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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