Back to School Fears

School can be great fun and a wonderful challenge, but it can also be over-whelming to some children. Many children experience school anxiety. This is especially true when a child enters school for the first time or enters a new school. Other especially difficult times may be around third grade, when most schools begin grading and comparing children academically, and seventh grade, when schoolwork demands increase substantially.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, school phobia occurs equally in boys and girls, and most often between the ages of five and seven (at the start of elementary school) and the ages of eleven and fourteen (the beginnings of junior and senior high school).

Handling School Fears

It is very important for parents to recognize the symptoms of school fear:

Sometimes a child may become overly anxious, even scared, about school. That fear can lead to psychosomatic illnesses - headaches, stomachache, nausea or dizziness - that keep them at home. School-phobic children should be sent back to school. The longer they go without attending, the more entrenched their anxieties become and the harder it will be to return.

As Julia Mazzzarella, Director of Guidance for the Livingston school system, has noted, “just starting school will erase those fears. If not, speak with the teacher, counselor or principal.”

Children’s fears and unrealistic expectations can usually be alleviated by talking about them with an older, experienced person. The Listen to Children Program pairs a warm accepting adult volunteer with a school child on a one-to-one basis. Having an adult who is not in a role of authority listen reassuringly and responsively in a non-threatening environment can help diminish the anxiety that many children feel at the beginning of school.