Symptoms of school phobia are:
• Frequent stomachaches and other physical complaints such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, exhaustion, or headaches that cannot be attributed to a physical ailment.
• Clinginess, tantrums, and/or panic when required to separate from a parent or caregiver.
• Fear of the dark or being in a room alone.
• Trouble going to sleep and/or having nightmares.
• Exaggerated fears of animals, monsters, school, etc.
• Constant thoughts concerning the safety of self or others.
Usually, school refusal lasts only a short time, especially if a parent insists on school attendance. However, if the problem persists, consultation with school personnel will be necessary to form a unified home and school approach. If ignored, chronic school phobias can result in the deterioration of academic performance, peer relationships, work quality, and possibly lead to adult anxiety, panic attacks, or psychiatric disorders. Therefore, the issues of a child with school phobia must be addressed early so that his or her fears can be abated. The essential steps are recognizing the problem, discovering the underlying cause or causes for the child's discomfort, and working with school professionals to alleviate the difficulty. Parents need to view themselves as part of a team working together for the good of their child.
Ideas for School Modifications
• Have the teacher or other school professional, such as the school counselor, establish a caring relationship with the child.
• Arrange for a school staff member greet the parent and child at the door and take the child to the class.
• Discuss the situation with the school nurse who can attend to the child's complaints and then return him or her to class.
• Help the child build self-confidence by discovering his or her strengths and by providing opportunities for the child to excel.
• Identify particular activities the child enjoys doing and those that produce anxiety.
• Monitor bullying activities that may be taking place.
• Include the student in a friendship group facilitated by the school counselor.
• Adjust work assignments to match the student's academic skills.
• Have a child with poor academic skills tested for special education services.
• Use a behavior contract to be reinforced with a reward such as a sticker (see Rewards in the Classroom).