Scolionophobia (Fear of School)

Scolionophobia is an overwhelming fear of school. It is not a clinical diagnosis, but it's often a symptom of other anxiety disorders. School refusal is more likely to affect children during times of transition, such as starting middle school or high school. Children with school phobia often become physically ill at the thought of going to school.


What is scolionophobia?

Scolionophobia is an intense fear of school that stays with your child for a long time. It's not a clinical diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). But some healthcare providers view it as similar to specific phobias.

Many children feel reluctant to go to school at some point. But children with scolionophobia feel insecure or anxious at the thought of going to school. They may even become physically ill. A child with scolionophobia often misses many days of school for vague or unknown reasons.

School phobia or school refusal is often associated with other anxiety disorders. Another name for school phobia is didaskaleinophobia.


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Who might get school phobia?

Between 18 and 24 months, many children develop separation anxiety. They may cry, have tantrums or feel anxious when they are away from their caregiver. Usually, children grow out of this separation anxiety. If they don’t, they may develop scolionophobia.

Children are more likely to develop school phobia if they have a caregiver who tends to be overprotective. Some children are naturally more anxious than others. Children are also more likely to fear school if they are:

  • An only child.
  • The youngest child.
  • Chronically ill.

How common is school phobia?

School phobia affects about 2% to 5% of children — in other words, up to 1 in every 20 children. It's most common in young children ages 5 to 6 or middle school-age children ages 10 to 11. You may also notice scolionophobia symptoms during transitional times, such as when your child enters high school.


Symptoms and Causes

What causes scolionophobia?

Sometimes, there's no clear cause of scolionophobia. But problems at school or home can contribute to a child’s anxiety about school. At home, children who have scolionophobia may also struggle with:

  • Fear of violence at home or in their community.
  • Financial instability.
  • Food instability.
  • Lack of adequate housing or homelessness.
  • Lack of undivided attention from their parent or caregiver.
  • Significant family changes, such as a move, divorce or death.

At school, children may have scolionophobia after experiencing:

  • Bullying, teasing or threats of physical harm from other children.
  • Fear of criticism, punishment or ridicule from a teacher or other school staff.
  • Learning difficulties, such as dyslexia (difficulty with reading and language) or dyscalculia (difficulty understanding math and numbers).
  • Worry or intense fear about catastrophic events, such as fear of a school shooting.

What are the symptoms of scolionophobia?

For many children, the primary symptoms of scolionophobia are physical. When they think about going to school, children may experience:

Children may also experience psychological symptoms, including:

  • Clinginess, such as being afraid to leave caregivers.
  • Fear of the dark.
  • Nightmares.
  • Preoccupation with thoughts about their safety or the safety of others.
  • Tantrums.


Diagnosis and Tests

How is scolionophobia diagnosed?

Scolionophobia doesn't have specific diagnostic criteria. To understand the root of school refusal, a healthcare provider may ask you or your child:

  • What symptoms your child experiences.
  • When symptoms appear.
  • How long symptoms last.
  • If specific events or interactions trigger symptoms.
  • What helps symptoms go away.

Management and Treatment

How is scolionophobia treated?

Children with mild scolionophobia symptoms may work with a caregiver or teacher to overcome school-related fears. If symptoms are severe or related to another mental health diagnosis, children may benefit from:

  • Talk therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), often called talk therapy, helps children identify unhelpful or untrue thoughts. The therapist teaches children how to replace inaccurate thoughts with rational ones.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): DBT uses four skills to help children work through intense emotions. The therapist teaches children two acceptance-oriented skills and two change-oriented skills. The goal is to help children understand how their thoughts influence their behaviors. With this understanding, they can better manage negative emotions and interpersonal relationships.
  • Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy works by slowly introducing a specific fear into daily life. Children may start by visualizing interactions at school. Eventually, you face the fear in real life.
  • Medication: Particularly if a child has another mental health condition, medication may be helpful. For example, children may take antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs like sertraline (Zoloft®) or fluoxetine (Prozac®) may treat an underlying anxiety disorder.


Are there other conditions that put my child at a higher risk of scolionophobia?

Children with anxiety disorders or other mental health conditions are more likely to develop school refusal. Children with scolionophobia may also have:

Outlook / Prognosis

How can my child overcome a fear of school?

With proper treatment, many children overcome the fear of school. For others, school-related anxiety never goes away completely.

Along with any formal treatment, children may learn coping strategies to lower anxiety. They may:

  • Learn mindfulness or meditation techniques to lower stress.
  • Practice breathing exercises.
  • Repeat positive, affirmative statements (affirmations).

Living With

What should I ask my child's healthcare provider?

You may also want to ask your child's healthcare provider:

  • What's the most likely cause of school refusal?
  • Does my child have a mental health diagnosis?
  • Would my child benefit from seeing a therapist?
  • How can I help my child overcome school phobia?

Additional Common Questions

Is there a fear of schoolwork?

Yes. Some children have a crippling fear of completing schoolwork. The fear of homework is called devwahrphobia. If children with devwarhphobia feel like they have too much schoolwork to do, they may have a panic attack or other extreme anxiety symptoms.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Scolionophobia is the extreme fear of school. It's not a formal diagnosis, but many experts treat it like a specific phobia. Some children who have scolionophobia become physically ill at the thought of going to school. They may miss a significant amount of school for vague or unexplained reasons. Children with minor symptoms can work with a teacher or caregiver to decrease school-related anxiety. If symptoms are more extreme, therapy or medication can help these children.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 08/10/2022.

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