Ask Dr. Ticcy: My Child Won’t Go to School

Dr. Ticcy is a pseudonym for the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada National Office, which draws on information from experts across Canada and beyond to answer questions from the TS community. Please send your questions to tsfc@tourette.ca with the salutation “Dear Dr. Ticcy.”

Dr Ticcy:

Help! My kid won’t go to school. I tell them to go and they say no. They say they feel sick, they cry and they tell me that their stomach hurts. They get really anxious. I don’t what to do!




Dear Out-of-Options,

It’s common for kids to feel some anxiety about going back to school. Being firm with your kids and telling them, “you must go back to school” is an option. For many, this may be enough. However, like yourself, some parents try this and things don’t get better. If separation anxiety or back-to-school anxiety becomes overwhelming or disruptive, it is time to think about doing something about it.

Where to begin? There are several options and possible strategies you might consider:

Professional support Speak to a professional counsellor, doctor, or psychologist.  They can make further recommendations, which may include behavioural therapy, prescription medication, gradual re-entry to school, and rewards for school attendance.

Transitional objects Teachers can encourage students to bring a “transitional object” from home (ex. favourite stuffed animal) and to take a special object home with them, such a drawing or a book. This can help your son or daughter feel more comfortable.

Touching base during the day You might try pre-arranging a particular time when your son or daughter gets to call, text, or email you. This could be a reward for completing work or simply a plan to help them get through the day.

Improve the drop-off Morning drop-off can be particularly tough. If possible, you might consider having someone else drop off your child to make it easier for your child to separate and enter the school.

Some separation is okay You may be tempted to spend every waking second with your child but this can make it harder to seperate. Consider trying to systematically increase the amount of time your son or daughter is separated from you while in the home or outside of school.

Additional Support Additional adult support may be needed during interactions with peers, lunch hour, and during transitions. During new or novel situations, teachers can help students by providing them with specific instructions or special tasks. For example, a teacher could tell the student, “When we get to on our field trip tomorrow, you can help by checking off each student’s name as they get on and off the bus.”

Take the scariness out presentations Talking in front of the class can be a source of panic and anxiety. It may be a good idea to allow anxious students to watch others do their presentations before asking them to get up in front of the class. Talk to your child’s teacher if you think this may help. Practicing presentations at home can help too!

Make a plan Together with the student, teaching staff (and possibly parents) can plan what the student should do when they feel panicky. This plan may include breathing techniques (ex. diaphragmatic breathing for 10 breaths), thinking about how a good friend might handle the same situation, exiting the classroom for a brief walk, standing out in the hall for a few moments, and/or going to the office or special education resource room.

I hope these suggestions help you and your child.

Best wishes,

Dr. Ticcy 

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