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Anxiety and Stress Disorders (Children)

Possible School Phobia

10/10/2006

Question:

I have three sons, age 8.5., 6.5, and 4. I am a teacher but have chosen to stay at home until all my boys are in school full time. My husband is also a teacher. This question is about my 8.5 year old. He is a bright, kind boy. He has friends, and does well at school. He is not an outwardly confident boy, but he has a strong confidence in the strength of his character. He is well liked, but more of a follower (happy to be so). He is usually a laid back, cheerful kid. He is also extremely empathetic. Also maybe of significance, his is younger than most of the kids in the class, although his maturity is usually higher.

He just started grade 4 this year. He likes his friends and teacher and the work is not too challenging for him. Everything should be great. However, he is showing so much anxiety. He`s called crying from the office. He cries often in the morning when it`s time to go in the school.

I worry mostly about what he`s feeling and thinking inside, but I also worry that he might be seen as a "crybaby". In all honestly, I also don`t like the critical eye from other parents, even my "friends". We have talked to our son about this and he always seems fine at night. It`s just the morning arrival that causes a problem. Recently he has even had little appetite at breakfast which is very unusual.

He is open with us but he doesn`t seem to understand what is going on. He just says he misses us and feels "whoozy". We`ve taught him to take a drink of water and take deep breaths. That`s helped him over the hump most mornings, but today there were tears again.

We have talked to his teacher. She said he is very competent academically and everyone in the class likes him. She sees the anxiety though and is encouraging to take deep breaths.

Nothing in his life has changed except moving rooms earlier in the summer. He used to share with his younger brother and now he is on his own. That was two months ago. It was an adjustment though.

The only other change is simply being in grade four, being now an intermediate and not a primary anymore. It`s heartbreaking and frustrating to go through this each morning and I would really appreciate some advice as to what we can do to help and what might be causing this.

Thank you for your time.

Answer:

Every fall at the beginning of a new school year anxiety termed school phobia in various forms reaches its highest level.  Vulnerable children with high internal anxiety states frequently can have problems adjusting during this time period and need extra encouragement and management for this crisis to abate.  It may be that this year the teacher is a bit more anxiety provoking or the demands of the classroom a bit more challenging.  I would say that your child may also have less resistance to these feelings of anxiety as well.  At any rate, the combination of circumstances as stated seems to point to a need for a formal clinical evaluation by a behavioral specialist and perhaps some directed therapy to decrease his anxiety level. 

For more information:

Go to the Anxiety and Stress Disorders (Children) health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Floyd R Sallee, MD
Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati