School Phobia is a condition which is currently estimated to affect between one and five children in 100. The little known condition was recently highlighted in the press, when a judge ordered Suffolk County Council to apologise to parents of a 16 year old boy for prosecuting them for keeping their son off school, despite evidence from his GP and psychologist that he had a genuine phobia of school.
Sufferers are not simply playing truant, but simply can’t face going to school. Sometimes their symptoms even manifest on a physical level, causing stomach cramps, headaches, nausea and panic attacks and behaviourally they may display temper tantrums.
Of those affected the condition is most common among five to six and 11 to 14 year olds, though children can become school phobic at any point.
School phobia was recognised as early as 1932, when experts found that some children who persistently missed school were not bunking off but simply appeared to have a psychological problem. By the 1960s the condition had been named but psychologists were and are still puzzled as to why typically well-behaved and socially conforming children, who do well academically when they do work, can’t cope with school.
For some parents the fear of prosecution over truancy is also a huge factor, though awareness of the condition is spreading and truancy officers should be aware of the condition.
Experts have said that the phobia is often related to crowds and large buildings, so a good idea is to start by teaching at home or in a quiet area. Trust needs to be built up so the idea of learning and school doesn’t have to be a problem that fills them with horror.
Ann Newstead, spokesperson for the charity Education Otherwise, thinks home schooling is the answer. ‘You wouldn’t dream of shutting a claustrophobic in a cupboard. Why would you put a child in an environment which isn’t beneficial for them?’
If you are concerned that your child may be affected by school phobia then there are certain symptoms to look out for which will separate the school phobic from the skiver.
Firstly school phobia is an ongoing issue that could go on for a period of months. Skivers on the other hand tend to only go through stages of not wanting to go to school. Additionally school phobics will exhibit physical symptoms ranging from headaches to sickness and stomach ache. Irrational behaviour such as anxiety, kicking and screaming are also common reactions.
If you do believe your child is suffering with school phobia then the first step is visit a GP for a formal diagnosis and then discussions with the school will need to be put into motion. Another option which many parents turn to is that of counselling. A counsellor will be able to help both child and parents understand and explore the underlying issues which may be contributing to the overall problem before trying to dispel them. If you would like to contact a counsellor in your local area please visit the homepage of this site where you can use the search tool to locate a qualified practitioner.
Original article featured in You magazine (29/08/10)