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School Phobia is itself a symptom of anxiety disorder in childhood. It is also known as separation anxiety, which is a child’s inappropriate fear of leaving their parents, a person, a place of trust or home.

Most children find going to school exciting and enjoyable, although of course, nearly all children have times when they don't want to go. This happens commonly at ages where children are faced with tougher school activities or exams or may have fallen out with friends. All of this is a normal part of growing up.

Children who develop school phobia, however, become terrified, trying every avoidance tactic in order to stay at home.

Parents should be aware if their child regularly says that they are too sick to go to school, they could be doing so in order to avoid anxious feelings.

School phobia can present itself in a number of ways:

  • Constant thoughts and fears about safety of self and parents

  • Refusing to go to school

  • Frequent stomach aches and other physical complaints

  • Extreme worries about sleeping away from home

  • Overly clingy

  • Panic or tantrums at times of separation from parents

  • Feeling unsafe staying in a room by themselves

  • Clinging behavior

  • Displaying excessive worry and fear about parents or about harm to themselves.
  • Shadowing the mother or father around the house

  • Difficulty going to sleep

  • Having nightmares

  • Exaggerated, unrealistic fears of animals, monster, burglars

  • Fear of being alone in the dark

  • Severe tantrums when forced to go to school.

What causes School phobia ?

School phobia develops in much the same way as an adult anxiety disorder or phobia; often high anxiety whilst at school results in a link being created in the amygdala between anxiety and school.

It is always difficult for a child to break away from home after an extended period of being at home, such as the school holidays or time off sick which can often be when school phobia initially becomes apparent.

Factors such as moving to a new area, a divorce or a bereavement can cause immense stress to a child and set off disturbed, anxious behavior that can escalate into school phobia.

Additionally, the child's family often unintentionally reflects school phobic behaviors on to the child. When a family undergoes a major stress such as moving house or bereavement, it is common for a child to express mild refusal to leave the primary caregiver (who may also be anxious, distressed, depressed.) This can escalate if the child is not firmly encouraged to leave the caregiver; in fact, they are often inadvertently rewarded with extra attention from their parents. The child's anxiety about leaving is reinforced and the child doesn't have the opportunity to develop ways to cope with the separation.

The psyche of a child is very superficial until this age and the sudden realization that life is not all about play and fun and, in fact, quite daunting, challenging and delicate, comes as quite a shock.

Children discover their mortality at varying ages but this realization too, can cause a child immense distress if not handled correctly by parents or guardians.

How Common is School Phobia?

A study in the US by Burke et. al. showed that 1.3% of teenagers aged 14-16 years and between 4.1% and 4.7% of children aged 7-11 years suffer from school phobia and that 5% of school-aged children are identified as 'school refusers.' A later study showed that internationally there is a 2.4% overall prevalence rate.

Will the Child's School Phobia continue into Adulthood?

The extended implications of school phobia can be far reaching. In the very long term, it can lead to anxiety and panic disorders in adulthood. Studies which have followed children who were successfully treated for school phobia and returned to school, have shown that some of them have long term impairment to their social skills and functioning, not to mention the detrimental effects to their education of being absent from school for prolonged periods.

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Replies to This Discussion

Dear Dr Dushyant ~ When reading through this list and the potential causes of school phobia or anxiety, I would imagine the rate would be even higher than recorded. So many stresses in life and the family. With the rates, as shown, this tells me that humans have coping mechanisms to withstand many life changes.

As a homeopathic physician, do you see many children with these phobias? Do you find one stressor more prevalent than any others? What about homeopathic remedies?

Learn about Exposure Therapy

 "A single session of exposure therapy can eliminate recalcitrant and..." Translation: Exposing yourself to something you're phobic about even one time can nullify said phobia completely.

Good topic and described in much details. 

I would say that the statistics would be higher among early childhood age children in India. the school going age is way too early and the curriculum is much harder and serious right after they start school then US schools.  

It could prevail in higher numbers in upper grades as well due to tremendous pressure and competition.


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