The concept of “school phobia” is used to designate situations of refusal to go to school by children and adolescents. In many cases, anxiety and fear at the prospect of going to class are not present or do not have the intensity required for the diagnosis of a specific phobia; in all cases, the key aspect is school avoidance.
In this article we will describe what is school phobia and what are its symptoms and causes. To do this, we’ll compare it to other similar issues that may overlap with this disorder, such as separation anxiety and specific phobias. However, it should be noted that there are no official diagnostic criteria for school phobia.
What is school phobia?
School phobia can be defined as an intense and persistent fear of going to school, although there is some disagreement around this perspective: while some authors conceive of this disorder as a real phobia, others associate it more with separation anxiety. It is this last point of view that the DSM-IV defends.
It is important to note that the most commonly used diagnostic categories do not include specifications for school phobia. Instances where there is real fear at school can be categorized as specific phobias, a shared label for disorders such as claustrophobia, fear of bugs, blood or heights.
Girls and boys with school phobia experience marked feelings of anxiety while in school, as well as the prospect of attending. Many affected children report that the discomfort is due to their fear of failing at school, although the causes can be various.
From a practical point of view the fundamental aspect of school phobia is refusal to go to schoolThis sometimes results in absences that can last for weeks or months. This avoidance, a very characteristic aspect of phobias, causes school delays for the little ones and logistical difficulties for the parents.
Unlike calves, parents know their daughter or son is not going to school. They also express their desire to see the situation resolved; this differentiates school phobia from dropping out of school, associated with parental neglect. Anxiety and fear are also specific to school phobia.
Specific phobias are characterized mainly by the appearance of feelings of intense anxiety about the presence or anticipation of what is feared (the phobic stimulus), as well as by the avoidance behaviors that result from it.
Fear at school manifests itself in reactions such as crying, screaming and complaints, As well as in negative behaviors of refusal to obey parents. Irritability and temper tantrums are also common forms of fear expression in young children, who are less aware of their own emotions than most adults.
Mood tends to be low, with depressive type symptoms such as listlessness and sadness. Like anxiety, depressed mood sets this phobia apart from other causes of absenteeism. He also tends to be heavily dependent on one or both parents, and these are often people predisposed to anxiety.
It is common for somatic reactions to occur as a result of anxiety; among these stand out headache and gastrointestinal symptoms, Such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and upset stomach. Physical and cognitive discomfort can also lead to bedwetting and problems with eating or reconciling and maintaining sleep.
Causes of this problem
The onset of school phobia is associated with psychosocial triggers. Some of them are directly linked to university life, such as changes of address and school, academic failure, Repetition, lack of social skills, social phobia and abuse in school, commonly known as bullying.
However, this fear also appears frequently in girls and boys who have recently lost a loved one, who have been affected by their parents’ separation, or who have suffered from an illness that made them absent from school for a long time. time.
From the point of view of operant conditioning, we can state that parental behavior is of great importance in the development of school phobia: allowing the child to stay at home reinforces his fear of going to school. In this sense, parental overprotection and anxiety are considered very important variables.
A factor that also carries a significant weight in school phobia is the fact that children tend to prefer to stay at home rather than go to school. In many cases, this disorder can be associated with times when the level of academic demand increases, such as during exams or oral presentations of work.