Have you ever felt abdominal pains, headaches, and dizziness only on school days without any medical illness? If you, you need to check if you have a school anxiety.

The following is a translation of an article that I published in the IsraePost newspaper. This is a very important article regarding School Phobia, which many parents, in my professional opinion, would find interesting and useful.

Who's Afraid of School?

Every morning, Jordan (16) complains of abdominal pain, headaches, and dizziness, ever since the first day of school. He describes strong pains that come and go and he almost can’t walk.  His parents are very concerned, and allow him to stay home from school. After examining Jordan, the pediatrician found no evidence of a physiological illness and recommended that his parents contact me for advice.

Jordan is a tall, handsome, and pleasant guy. He spent the summer with friends, hanging out by the pool. He said: "Life is fun, and I enjoy every minute of it.“ He defines himself as an average student, with no particular problems in school, but said that “he does not enjoy going to school and studying.”

This summer, his family moved to a new neighborhood and Jordan would thus have to attend a new school. He has already visited the new school, and was very impressed. He also knows a few students in the new school, although they are not in his grade. His parents told him that this school has a higher academic rating than his previous school, so it was very important for them to move to the new neighborhood.

Jordan suffers from School Anxiety. School Anxiety is expressed through physical symptoms (abdominal pain, headache, dizziness, etc.) in order to avoid going to school and dealing with situation that is perceived as frightening and threatening. Some children express it just from thinking about school, and some develop symptoms on their way to school.

School Anxiety appears more in adolescence. In this case, Jordan's anxiety is related to his transition to a new school and fears of not meeting his academic level and the expectations of his parents. An important part of treatment, in order to overcome anxiety, is early awareness of the phenomenon and encouragement of parents to make sure their child will go to school.

The psychotherapy begins with creating an anxiety scale with Jordan. The scale consists of a score from 1 to 10, each score indicating Jordan’s level of anxiety before leaving home for school, and what he feels and thinks at that time. In the case of Jordan understanding that anxiety is expected with transition from one school to another relieved him.

Continued treatment includes learning and practicing relaxation processes through imagination. Jordan has been instructed to imagine that he is in a safe place. He selects a tennis court as his safe place. Every morning, before leaving home to school, he imagines he is playing tennis, thus making him feel relaxed and in control. At the end of each session, his anxiety level is tested again on the 1-10 scale and it is usually going down.

His parents were advised to check the possibility of Jordan joining the school tennis team. Joining the tennis team—a part of Jordan’s “safe place”—will help him make new friends and regain the control he lost due to starting a new school.

Please keep in mind that the more parents cooperate with their child’s fears, such as allowing the child to stay home from school, the harder it is for the child to return to normal. Therefore, it is crucial to identify these symptoms early on and seek treatment as soon as possible.

This article was translated to English from Dr. Peleg‐Oren’s weekly column in IsraPost newspaper. Dr. Peleg-Oren is a licensed Clinical Social Worker practicing in the Aventura area.  She works with adolescents and adult facing issues like: Anxiety, Depression, life changes, Marital issues. Therapy can be provided in English & Hebrew.  You can contact her directly  786-877-0919, npelegoren@gmail.com ,   netapelegoren.con,   Dr. Neta Peleg-Oren, LLC.