EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part 1 of a three-part series on back-to-school anxiety by the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada. Parts 2 and 3 will be published Thursday and Friday, respectively.
Fall is fast approaching, and in a few short days, it will be that time again—time to pick up the books, pack the school bag and head back to school!
For many school-aged children, it’s an exciting time—a chance to catch up with friends, swap stories about the summer, sport new outfits and show off new school supplies. It is important to remember, however, that not every child feels this way. For some kids, the prospect of returning to school is unsettling, even dreadful. Rather than feeling excitement, they feel intense fear and anxiety leading them to declare, “I hate school” or “I really, really don’t want to go to school.”
The layperson’s term for this phenomenon is “back-to-school anxiety.” Scholars of the subject call it school phobia, school avoidance or school refusal. Simply defined, these terms refer to any anxiety and fear associated with going to school that can result in a pattern of avoidance of, or refusal to attend, school. This is not to be confused with a dislike of or desire to avoid schoolwork. Quite the opposite; according to one scholar, “Those with true school refusal…are usually willing to complete school work as long as it’s done at home.”
School phobia/avoidance is no small problem. Studies suggest that it affects 2 percent to 5 percent of all school-age children, with the highest incidence occurring among children between the ages of 5 and 6 (age 6 also happens to be the average age when someone with TS first starts experiencing symptoms).
Left unaddressed, school phobia can have serious consequences. In the short-term, it can lead to poor academic performance, parental conflict and diminishing peer relationships. In the long-term, it can result in academic failure, school dropout and employment difficulties.
So, what can be done about it? Can it be curbed? Eliminated? Prevented? If so, how?