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Offered by Dawn Dycus, MD, Brighton Pediatrics

Brighton PediatricsSchool is back in session! For many kids, this is an exciting time, the chance to catch up with friends and fall back into a regular routine. For other kids, the thought of school creates significant stress and anxiety. These kids- the ones who feel overwhelmed and believe they will have trouble coping- are the ones who might begin to avoid school, rather than embrace it.

School avoidance is not as uncommon as you might think. It affects 2 to 5% of school-aged children. The typical pattern involves complaints of symptoms on school days (usually right before leaving for school), but remarkably these symptoms become absent on the weekends. Symptoms tend to be vague; the most common complaints are those of headaches, stomachaches, chest tightness, nausea, or dizziness. More clear-cut symptoms such as fever, persistent vomiting or diarrhea, or fainting are much rarer. Most of the time, these kids do not know exactly why they feel ill, and may have trouble admitting their anxiety.

It is important to have the child seen by a provider, to eliminate any medical illness that may be a source for the symptoms. However, once this is ruled out, the next step is to create a plan for keeping the child in school. Allowing the child to stay home from school only reinforces the behavior. If the child is well enough to be up and around the house, then they are well enough to attend school.

Some helpful tactics include:

  • Talking to the child supportively about the reasons why they do not want to go to school
  • Acknowledge the child’s concerns, but insist on immediate return to school
  • Discuss the child’s school avoidance with the staff , including the teacher, school nurse, and principal
  • If a problem like teasing or a school bully is the source of anxiety, become an advocate for your child and discuss these issues with the school
  • Make a commitment to be extra firm on school mornings- keep discussions about symptoms to a minimum
  • If your child stays home, he should be supervised, safe, and comfortable, but no special treatment. This is not a vacation day! No special visitors, outings, snacks, etc.

This should help to keep the child in school as much as possible.

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