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Getting Anxious Kids to School

schoolboy with backpackSome kids love school and others are more reluctant. How should parents respond when children complain about school, start to cry about leaving home, or even have a tantrum rather than going to school?

If your child has reluctance about going to school, start with the following:

  • Talk to your child about school. Is there a problem going on that you are unaware of? Sometimes kids will not really know why they don’t want to go, it’s just a feeling of unease. But in some cases, kids will identify specific reasons for not wanting to go to school. Common reasons include being teased or bullied by other kids or not understanding some part of the school work.

  • Try not to put words in your kid’s mouths. For example, don’t say, “Is someone bothering you on the playground?” or “Are you having trouble on the bus?” That’s because kids with general anxiety about school may simply answer “Yes,” because that’s easier than trying to explain the unease they may feel.
  • Talk to your child’s teacher. See if the teacher has any insight about why your child is having trouble. The teacher may not be aware of any problem but will appreciate being informed. Sometimes with a little detective work, the teacher can discover what is happening in the school to cause discomfort in your child.
  • Rule out any health issues that may be involved by talking to your child’s medical care provider. Chronic illnesses or certain medications can interfere with school attendance or cause fatigue which can make it hard for a child to participate in a full day school program. If your child has a chronic illness, a health psychologist may be able to give some strategies or help you and the school personnel make accommodations that will make adjustment easier.
  • If these steps do not help, then talk to the counselor or school psychologist about possible interventions. When these types of problems are caught early, they can often be solved by simple behavioral changes. If there is a learning problem, usually further educational assessment is called for.

Although there are some parents who have the skills, time, and resources to educate children at home, most kids need to go to school. If causes such as bullying, health issues, and learning issues have been ruled out, there is a possibility that your child has developed separation anxiety or school phobia.

The good news is that school phobia or separation anxiety can be treated very effectively with help from a trained cognitive behavioral therapist. Parents can often find resources through counseling centers at schools or through private therapist. Such treatment is usually covered by health insurance. Sometimes the treatments can cause parents a fair amount of stress for a while, but it’s truly worth making the effort.

Schoolboy with backpack photo available from Shutterstock.

Getting Anxious Kids to School

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D.

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of adults and children with obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as personality disorders, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and learning disorders. Dr. Smith is a widely published author of articles and books to the profession and the public, including: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2E), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth, and Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be? Her website is:

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APA Reference
Smith, L. (2012). Getting Anxious Kids to School. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Feb 2012
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