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Duke Medicine: When Monday morning blues signal school anxiety

Posted November 12, 2012 8:45 p.m. EST

Nearly every parent has heard their child complain of a school morning tummy ache, or fielded a suspect call from their child begging to be picked up from the school nurse’s office.

However, when bad days start outweighing the good, and family routines are disrupted, a more serious matter may be the culprit. Children with extreme or age-inappropriate anxiety related to school may actually suffer from a very real condition known as School Refusal.

According to Jeffrey Sapyta, Ph.D.
, a child psychologist with the Duke Child and Family Study Center in Durham, School Refusal is more common than many parents think. Between 1 percent and 5 percent of children suffer from school refusal. It’s even more common when children transition to a new school.

“For these kids, the fear is real,” says Sapyta. “When kids have a stomach ache or other physical discomfort that appears to be directly related to a school activity or school attendance, in most cases, they aren’t faking those sensations.”

Parents need to know how to help their children when these situations occur.

“Learning to react appropriately is important because ignoring a child’s heightened fears, or overreacting to them, may exacerbate the situation, and can lead to further academic issues down the road,” he said.

Allowing the anxiety to go untreated also makes it harder for families to cope.

For tips on signs that there might be a problem and what to do, read the full post at Duke Medicine, Go Ask Mom's sponsor, offers health information and tips every Tuesday.