Is school making your child ill?


Thousands of five-year-olds around the country are about to start school.

But while many will be excited by the prospect, medics claim at least one in twenty will suffer from a little recognised health condition that will leave them with everything from stomach ache and headaches to joint pain and bed-wetting.

The condition, nicknamed 'tearful teenies' by many school nurses, is caused by the anxiety of starting a new regime among strangers and being separated from the people they know.

Medics claim it can be a very real health problem - and many school nurses are so concerned that they are pushing for a national helpline to be established to offer advice to parents.

'Starting school for the first time can be a very painful process for many

young children,' says Meryl Richards, a school nurse. 'It can manifest itself in a variety of quite severe physical

and psychological symptoms.

'For some children, the new routine, unfamiliar faces and surroundings and having to be away from mum for a few hours a day are more than they can cope with and the distress they experience is often underrated by adults.'

So how do you recognise if your child is suffering from the syndrome and how can it be cured? What happens if it worsens into a real phobia of school? Here a school nurse and child psychologist offer their advice.

What are the signs of tearful teenies syndrome?

Anxiety in children often manifests itself physically and can mimic serious conditions.

Severe stomach pains, sudden headaches, aches and pains in joints and

sudden changes in normal behaviour, such as sleepless nights, a spell

of bed-wetting or mild panic attacks

are all symptoms of the 'tearful teenies' syndrome.

Loss of appetite, clingy, panicky and tearful behaviour are other signs.

Most family GPs see an increase in five-year-olds who have just started school with such unspecific symptoms.

'All these signs of tearful teeny syndrome will disappear within the first few weeks and are

a fairly normal reaction to a new situation,' adds Meryl Richards. 'But there are many things you

can do to ease the problem.'

What can parents do to help?

'Obviously any sudden symptom such as severe tummyache, earache or

headache should be referred to your GP straightaway,' says clinical child psychologist Amanda Jones.

'But if the GP checks them over and they are perfectly well,

talk to your child's teacher and share your worries with them, they are

experts at settling worried children.'

Dr Jones says showing your child that you like and respect their new teacher will help to build a child's confidence and sense of security.

'Other ways to ease the syndrome include making an effort to get to know the mothers of the children your child is most friendly with and entering in to the social side of school activities where possible, such as helping with reading or craft work,' she says.

Other routines such as keeping to an early bedtime after a warm bath, followed by a milky drink and reading a favourite story will also reassure your child. Let your child know that the school will contact you if they need to and leave a mobile or alternative contact numbers with the school office in case of delays.

What if the condition worsens?

Anxiety over attending school can very occasionally develop into a more serious condition called school phobia. But this condition usually only applies to older children who have gradually built up a complete fear of going to school over a long period of time. It can be due to many reasons such as bullying or unresolved problems at home and is a complex condition requiring expert help involving parents, school and school psychologists to re-build confidence.

For more support contact the national charity Childline (0800 1111) which will counsel children

experiencing difficulties and offer guidance to parents.

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