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What is School Phobia?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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School phobia or didaskaleinophobia is a type of phobia in which people are afraid to go to school. This condition is most commonly seen in children, classically between the ages of eight and 13, and it can be very debilitating, especially if it is allowed to progress. A wide variety of techniques can be used to manage school phobia. Children with this condition usually benefit from seeing a psychotherapy professional who can help the child and provide assistance to help parents and school officials support the child.

This common phobia is associated with a wide variety of causes. It is often attributed to separation anxiety, but it can also be evoked by many different kinds of stress. A child who has recently moved, suffered a loss, or gone through a divorce may develop school phobia, and phobias can also develop in response to bullying, an undiagnosed learning disability, perception of a poor performance at school, or to particular teaching style. Understanding the cause of a school phobia is an important step in providing treatment.

A child with school phobia usually refuses to go to school, or protests extravagantly. He or she may become physically ill when ordered to school, or fake the symptoms of illness to avoid going. When the child arrives at school, he or she may run away rather than going to class, and the child can develop behavioral problems in class and on the playground. When school is discussed, the child can become sullen, upset, angry, or aggressive.

As soon as a school phobia is suspected, parents should take action to address it. Like other phobias, school phobia increases in severity the longer it is left untreated, and it can interfere with a child's success in school. Treatment can include psychotherapy as well as adjustments at home and in the classroom. If bullying is a cause, for example, the bullying situation would be addressed. A school staff member might also make a point of meeting the child at the door and escorting him or her to class, and providing support for the child throughout the school day so that the child feels like a friendly adult is always available.

Changes at home can include supportive language from parents, along with support like assistance with homework. If a child feels inadequate, parents may encourage the child to explore an area of interest and achieve proficiency so that he or she can feel good about something. Parents might also talk to their children about their own fears of school and how they got over them, and their own enjoyment of school and school-like activities. Reading to children and engaging in structured activities at home can also help dispel a school phobia.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon45688 — On Sep 19, 2009

I worked in a school health office working with fourth and fifth graders and dealt with a handful of kids who had this issue. I didn't know the exact name for it but these poor kids where in true anguish, and while others thought they were simply behaving badly I now feel even better about sticking to my guns and treating the children with care and respect for their phobia. They all did better after being treated with kid gloves for a bit and I am very proud of each of them for dealing with their fear. I am now going to send a link to this article to several teachers and the principal I worked with so no child is labeled a behavior problem when they are simply fearful.

By anon45341 — On Sep 16, 2009

It is interesting for me that i have my kids in the ages between this phobia. It will help me to deal with the issue more specifically.

By anon45025 — On Sep 12, 2009

I'd love to know where "they" get the names for these illnesses. Anyone know? Both my little sister, now 47, and myself suffered with this as children. With her, it was kindergarten or first grade, right after my dad died. With me, it was first grade and it was my teacher. I went to school most of the time but came home for lunch and hid in the cubby hole up in the attic, squeezed an entire tube of VO-5 throughout my hair. I even crawled out of the attic window, scooted across the breezeway roof and hid behind the ornament on the garage roof until I knew it was too late to go back to school. My teacher was old and mean and always punished kids -- never a kind word. Later years in life, I learned I had ADD, and I thought back to that first grade teacher. This is a very real illness and thank you for bringing it to the attention of others!

By anon45009 — On Sep 12, 2009

I found it interesting to read about school phobia. This is exactly what happened to me at the age of 6-8. I used to weep and hide before going to a traditional priest school every morning. After about a year, I simply adjusted. (I don't remember how!) Now, I am 50 years and a medical doctor.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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