What is school anxiety?

School anxiety occurs when a child experiences uneasiness, apprehension, or fear about attending school, which impairs their physical and psychological well-being.


What are the symptoms of school anxiety?

Children may express intense fear, worry, or defiance toward attending school or remaining in a classroom environment. These feelings may manifest in tantrums, crying, or clinging before attending school. Students may also experience physical problems, such as headaches, stomachaches, nausea, insomnia, or diarrhea in anticipation of attending school. It is also important to note that these children express their anxiety for school every day, not every once in a while. School anxiety may also lead to school refusal.


What is school refusal?

School refusal occurs when a child consistently refuses to go to school or experiences difficulty remaining in a school environment.


What are the symptoms of school refusal?

While school refusal is largely a psychological disorder, symptoms may manifest physically. Students may frequent their school nurse’s office or repeatedly request to be sent home sick. Children may experience headaches, stomachaches, nausea, or diarrhea. Parents should also be aware of general defiance toward attending school, tantrums, inflexibility, separation anxiety, and avoidance.


Why do children experience school anxiety and school refusal?

Children experience school anxiety and school refusal for a variety of reasons. For some, moving or beginning at a new school may cause anxiety and stress. Others may experience separation anxiety from their family or a fear that harm may come to their family when they are at school. Some students develop performance anxiety, fearing that they will not do well, while others may fear specific social interactions with teachers or other students. It is important to understand that not all individuals experience school anxiety or school refusal for the same reasons, and that consulting a mental health professional is the best way to assess the source of a child’s anxiety or defiance.


Who is affected by school anxiety and school refusal?

Anxiety-based school refusal affects about two to five percent of children. School anxiety and school refusal occur most commonly at transition points, such as the beginning of elementary, middle, and high school. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, children suffering from school anxiety and school refusal often have average or above-average intelligence, but may perform worse if school anxiety or school refusal persist.


How are school anxiety and school refusal treated?

Because all children experience school anxiety or school refusal for different reasons, it is important to consult a mental health professional in order to properly understand the cause of their defiance or anxiety. Often, school refusal stems from other mental health issues that a professional will be able to evaluate and treat on an individual basis.

At GenPsych, there are a variety of treatment methods for anxiety and related disorders. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps children to develop positive thinking habits toward school and to limit negative and unrealistic thoughts. Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) deals largely with self-reflection, responsibility, and conflict resolution in stressful situations. Other therapy methods include art therapy, music therapy, play therapy, anger management, family therapy, and more.


How can parents and family members help children through school anxiety and school refusal?

If a child is experiencing school anxiety or school refusal, continued attendance at school is very important. Parents should discuss any issues of school refusal with their child’s teachers and guidance counselors, so that the student can be accommodated and make use of any available resources. Gradual exposure to school may be necessary to help acclimate a child to the school environment and decrease fear and anxiety. Parents should discuss their child’s feelings with them, reinforce positive thoughts toward school, and encourage activity or participation in hobbies or interest groups. Developing a support system both in school and at home will help the child to reduce school refusal behaviors.


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