A problem shared, by mother-of-four and GP Clare Bailey: How do I get my daughter to go back to school?

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GP Clare Bailey helps a woman whose nine-year-old daughter has been trying to avoid school

Question 

My daughter, nine, has been trying to avoid school over the last month. She complains of tummy ache and has remained at home on quite a few occasions.

Our doctor thought she seemed well and wondered if she is anxious about something. She is a sensitive child and does worry about things. Some days I let her stay at home to catch up with herself, as school appears quite stressful for her. At other times, though, I get cross and badger her or bribe her to go in.

Up to now I have told school she is unwell. But she is getting more resistant and I am having to work from home. She won’t say what the problem is. I suspect it is to do with her friendship group excluding her. She doesn’t want a teacher involved. I’m not sure what to do!

GP Clare Bailey helps a woman whose nine-year-old daughter has been trying to avoid school

'My daughter, nine, has been trying to avoid school over the last month,' the woman says. 'She complains of tummy ache and has remained at home on quite a few occasions' (stock image)

‘My daughter, nine, has been trying to avoid school over the last month,’ the woman says. ‘She complains of tummy ache and has remained at home on quite a few occasions’ (stock image)

Answer

Having to drag your daughter to school must be stressful. It sounds to me as if she’s going through what we used to call ‘school avoidance’, which implied children were being disobedient, when in reality, she is probably suffering from anxiety.

I also know what it is like to have to go to school when you feel that you don’t fit in. When I was growing up my parents moved around a lot so I ended up going to nine different schools, and though most were fine I was particularly unhappy in one of them. I would sometimes claim I had a tummy ache to stay at home, or spend the morning with the dinner ladies.

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School anxiety is not a trivial thing. Her anxiety can set off the fight, flight, freeze response. If your child gets really anxious it can make her body release floods of stress hormones, which in turn can make them tremble, feel sick or freeze; it can also alter her thinking (have you noticed her becoming more self-critical, saying things like ‘I’m hopeless’ or ‘I don’t fit in’?). That can lead to changes in behaviour, such as hiding away or staying at home.

So it’s important to gently try to find out why she finds it so difficult to go to school. She may not know herself, or find it hard to explain. Be calm and curious, avoid jumping to conclusions. Perhaps she has fallen out with her friends; is the playground too noisy; is this separation anxiety, fear of failure or maybe she is being bullied?

Give her space, be sympathetic and help her understand that it is the anxiety making it hard for her to go to school.

Dr Clare says: 'Having to drag your daughter to school must be stressful. It sounds to me as if she's going through what we used to call 'school avoidance', which implied children were being disobedient, when in reality, she is probably suffering from anxiety' (stock image)

Dr Clare says: ‘Having to drag your daughter to school must be stressful. It sounds to me as if she’s going through what we used to call ‘school avoidance’, which implied children were being disobedient, when in reality, she is probably suffering from anxiety’ (stock image)

The longer this goes on, the harder it is to get back in the classroom. The school needs to be involved to help her too. This may involve dealing with bullying, making changes in the classroom or a graduated return so it’s not overwhelming.

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It can help to join clubs and find different friendship groups, or have a buddy at school. It takes time and with your encouragement and support, with counsellors or other professionals if needed, your daughter is likely to settle back into school. 

  • For further help, visit my site: parentingmatters.co.uk

As well as making you overweight, depressed and anxious, before you tuck into your next takeaway meal, you should also know that eating lots of ultra-processed foods (high in fat, salt, sugar and artificial additives) can also impact how smart you are. Researchers from Macquarie University in Australia randomly allocated 110 healthy adults to either continue eating as normal or to binge on junk food for a week. The latter group not only did worse in tests of learning and memory, but they also reported having cravings for more junk food even when they were already feeling full. 

No time to work out? Try ‘snacking’

Who wants to go for a run or a long walk when it’s so cold and dark? Fortunately, researchers from University College London say you don’t have to… you should try ‘snacking’ instead.

They don’t mean scoffing chocolate, though. Instead, they recommend ‘exercise snacks’, or small bursts of activity during the day. Data from 15,000 people wearing tracking devices showed short and simple exercises such as a five-minute stroll can help make your heart healthier.

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Source: tit.edu.vn

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