“My nine-year old daughter has started to dread going to school. She always has a head or tummy ache, and ends up missing two or three days a week. When I tell her she has to go, she acts as if she’s truly afraid, and cries and screams. We don’t know what to do.”
Situations like this require a firm hand. Do not be tempted to wait and hope that she will eventually go to school by herself. If left too long, she may never go back.
Still, you need to realize that her feelings are real. Showing anger won’t help either of you.
You need to find out what is troubling her. It could be school phobia ( a fear of school), separation anxiety (fear of leaving you or the home) or agoraphobia (fear of crowds and public places). These are all very real disorders.
If someone is bullying, teasing, embarrassing, or abusing her, then it could be the first diagnosis. Talk to her teachers to find out what they know and to inform them of your experiences with your daughter.
Make a doctor appointment for a complete examination. Explain the whole situation to him so he can look for serious illness.
If he doesn’t find anything, then believe what he says. Don’t ask for more tests and assume that your child is healthy and should be in school. Be firm with her and at the same time reassure her that you will both be fine when she gets to school. If she still claims to be sick, you can either:
Option one is to tell her she has to go to school. Of course if she shows symptoms of real illness, you would keep her home. Simply “not feeling good” isn’t a good enough reason not to go. Adults go to work with headaches and other fairly minor ailments.
The second option is to take her word for it and act accordingly. Since she is ill, she should be in bed. Turn off her lights, close the curtains, and don’t allow any TV or special snacks. Just go about your daily routine and don’t give her any attention. Make sure that being at home is as boring as can be. If she can’t sleep, then she should work on her studies. Don’t allow any visitors.
Along with this, set up clear incentives (rewards, privileges) for getting to school.
Be firm and remain calm. Let her know that you expect her to go to school, but don’t argue with her if she resists. The goal her is for her to want to go back to school. Once she goes and finds out that she’s fine, her previous symptoms should disappear.
If these techniques don’t work and you think she may be seriously depressed or anxious, then find professional help by asking your family doctor for a referral.