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Anxiety and Stress Disorders (Children)

Development of School Phobia

08/16/2007

Question:

My nine yr. old daughter is constantly in the nurses office during the school year complaining of stomach aches and headaches. When she gets home she is fine. If I take her to the doctor they say she is healthy and can find nothing wrong. This only happens during the school year, in the summertime, while in daycare all day, she is fine. She has trouble controlling her temper at times and will frequently throw such violent temper tantrums that the only thing I can do is hold her as tight as possible to me until she calms down. On occasion these tantrums will occur at school, luckily not as extreme. I was recently told that these are signs of anxiety. Is this true and do you have any referrals for low cost treatment since we have no health insurance. PS I was away from her for 2 1/2 yrs while incarcerated. She has been living with me for the last 1 1/2 yrs now.

Answer:

Your child may have a very common anxiety problem that is called “school phobia.” The intervention is rather simple, as it presents itself just prior to going to school or getting on the school bus, parents are instructed to ignore symptoms such as you describe and to send the child to school. Ignoring the temper tantrums is required. Frequently parents need help and guidance in shaping their child’s behavior, but the intervention is almost always effective. I would inquire at your local mental health center about diagnosis, treatments and costs, but above all, I would not give in to your child’s anxieties about going to school.

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Response by:

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