Didaskaleinophobia is the fear of school or fear of going to school. Nearly 2 to 5% of school going children is known to be inflicted with such phobia. The word Didaskaleinophobia is derived from Greek Didasko meaning to teach and phobos meaning aversion or fear. Another common term for the fear of school is Scholionophobia which is derived from Latin scius for ‘knowing’.
Kids are often known to “play truant” or skip school. However, the kids who do so aren’t always afraid of school- anger or boredom are the more common reasons behind their behavior. Mark Twain’s famous character Tom Sawyer also often played hooky from school but he was not suffering from the fear of school phobia. Rather, he simply had ‘better things to do’ like finding adventures in the great outdoors.
In case of Didaskaleinophobes, the mere thought of going to school can trigger a full blown panic attack. Most psychologists believe that such phobia is typically more common in preschool aged children of 4-6 years. This is often due to the fact that they are leaving the safety of their homes for the first time. Often, diagnosis of this phobia is difficult as the young child is unable to express his fears accurately.
Causes of Didaskaleinophobia
As stated before, diagnosis of Didaskaleinophobia often requires in-depth analysis as the young child might not fear school per se; rather it is the fear of bullies or riding on the school bus, or a scary dog encountered on the way to school, or a particularly strict teacher that may be causing the problem.
Children between the ages of 4-6 who suffer from fear of school phobia usually have separation anxiety. They fear they might not see their mother (or a loved one) again after going to school. A negative or traumatic event (divorce of parents, death etc) at this time can also reinforce the fear of school where the mind recreates the phobic response over and over as a defense mechanism against further traumatic news.
Some middle-school children (13 to 15 year olds) might also suffer from Didaskaleinophobia. This is the time when school work tends to increase tremendously, and students often have to deal with difficult topics in Math, Science etc. At the same time, their bodies are also undergoing changes associated with adolescence and puberty and naturally it can be a difficult time with their raging hormones.
Overall unsafe school environment, (recent reports of children bringing guns and other violent objects to school), bullying, or changing to a new school (which is termed as school refusal) are some other factors which can trigger the fear of school phobia.
Symptoms of fear of school phobia
The fear of school phobia manifests itself in the form of various physical and emotional symptoms.
- Younger children might cry, scream, or have a full blown anxiety attack at the thought of having to go to school. They pretend to be sick in order to avoid school. Some also tend to cry all night before. This can be very trying and frustrating for parents as they are often unable to help the child relieve the overwhelming anxiety.
- The child might have constant thoughts about death/dying (especially the death of the loved ones) when it is in school. This might make him/her overly clingy so much so that s/he might shadow its parents constantly around the house. Other phobias may also be seen in the child, including the fear of being left alone, the fear of the dark, the fear of monsters/ghosts etc.
- Dizziness, heart palpitations, dry mouth, excessive sweating, breathlessness, nausea, and full blown panic attack are few other symptoms of Didaskaleinophobia.
- Teenagers might not speak about their phobia- however, they will show avoidance behavior like coming up with fake illness or excuses etc to avoid going to school. Depression is a common symptom of the phobia.
Needless to say: the phobia can affect the entire family and not just the suffering individual.
If you are a parent whose child is suffering from the fear of school phobia, rest assured that it is a completely treatable condition. It can be extremely frustrating and overwhelming to see the child in distress each day, but remember that younger children are more malleable than adults so therapy is very likely to be successful.
Medications do provide much needed relief from anxiety suffered by the child; however, these should be taken only under the guidance of experts and only in very severe cases. Moreover, it is essential to note that drugs do not overcome the phobia; rather they only reduce the symptoms. It is vital that, as a parent, you are supportive to the child during this period. It is important to find out why the child is afraid of school and if needed, even speak to the teacher or the school nurse regarding the phobia.
Positive visualization, music, deep breathing and other relaxation tools are all known to be very helpful (especially in teenagers) when coping with fear of school phobia.