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Help! My Child Won't Go To School

By Dr. Noel Swanson

"My nine-year old daughter has started to dread going to school. She always has a head or tummy ache, and ends up missing two or three days a week. When I tell her she has to go, she acts as if she's truly afraid, and cries and screams. We don't know what to do."

You need to be firm with her. Don't count on the problem going away if you ignore it. She could end up not ever going back.

However, don't be angry with her as her anxiety and distress are real.

She may have one of three conditions that you need to determine: school phobia (fear of going to school), separation anxiety (fear of leaving you or your home, or agoraphobia (fear of crowded and public places).

If someone is bullying, teasing, embarrassing, or abusing her, then it could be the first diagnosis. Talk to her teachers to find out what they know and to inform them of your experiences with your daughter.

Take her to the doctor for a complete physical examination. Tell the doctor the whole story and ask him to rule out any serious illnesses.

Once the doctor has done this, believe him! Do not chase after ever more expensive tests. From this point onwards your assumption is that the child is well and so should be in school. Give her firm and confident reassurance that both she and you will be fine when she is there. If she complains again of being unwell you then have two options:

Option one is to tell her she has to go to school. Of course if she shows symptoms of real illness, you would keep her home. Simply "not feeling good" isn't a good enough reason not to go. Adults go to work with headaches and other fairly minor ailments.

The second option is to believe her. Since she says she is too unwell to go to school, then clearly she is too unwell to be up and about the house. If she is sick then she is sick, and so she goes to bed: lights off, curtains closed, no TV, no special snacks. Ignore her and go about your normal daily routine. Make sure that the option of staying home is boring. If she is not sleeping then, ideally she should be doing some school work. Certainly there should be no friends or visitors to entertain her.

Establish some incentives for her to go to school. Some kind of reward or privilege would be in order.

You must be tough and firm, but also calm, about all of this. Be clear that you expect her to be at school, but do not get into a fight with her about it. The goal is for her to want to get back as quickly as possible. Once there, and she discovers that nothing does happen to her or to you while at school, the symptoms of depression and anxiety should rapidly resolve.

If none of this works, or if you are concerned about a serious depression or anxiety disorder, seek professional help through your family doctor.

About The Author

Dr. Noel Swanson runs a very interesting website on parenting", so if you could do with some tips for dealing with your children it might be worth a visit.


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