Education Quandary: My nine-year-old is reluctant to go to school and complains of stomach pains. What shall we do?

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Hilary's advice

At this late point in the term I would simply coax her through to the Christmas holidays, then give her a lot of TLC and see if you can get her to talk about any problems.

You say she is struggling with maths, so why not help her with this? You could ask her teacher to suggest some practice materials, and at the same time see if you can find out from the teacher about how your daughter seems in class. You also say your daughter has had a falling-out with her friend. This could well be the root cause of the problem, as nothing is more important to a nine-year-old girl than her friends.

But with the wisdom of hindsight I would say: leave that situation alone. You could easily start trying to resolve it, only to find out that, just as you do, your daughter has found a new friend or made up with her old one.

Don't discount a physical source for her stomach aches. Although unlikely, it could be that she is starting to react to certain foods, or has the beginnings of a gut condition. Watch to see if there is any relationship between the pains and when and what she eats, and also make sure she gets plenty of fresh air and exercise over the holiday.

If the situation continues next term, then talk to her school, or her doctor, as you think best, although I suspect it may well have blown over by then.

Readers' advice

Could your daughter be suffering from separation anxiety? When I was 10, I began to have what I now know were panic attacks and suffered from nausea and stomach pains. In retrospect, things were very difficult at school at the time but young children don't make the connection between stress and physical illness. If there's no physical cause for her stomach ache, then she may be suffering from something similar. Bear in mind that she might not know what's happening to her either.

Samantha Whyte, Manchester

What is happening at home? My son began to have panic attacks in the classroom when he was 13. Two years later his father and I separated, and now I can see that his problems began at the same time as ours. I'm ashamed to say that we were so preoccupied with our own problems we did nothing to help him beyond talking to his form tutor once. After six months he just seemed to get over it.

Name withheld, Cheshire

Whatever you do, don't make too much fuss about her stomach aches and let her stay off school because this will only get worse until she is completely school phobic. Tell her she has to go and that, if she feels worse, the school will telephone you and you will come and get her. Many anxious children are fine once they get through the door in the morning.

Jenny Long (Year Four teacher), London SE13

Next Week's Quandary

My New Year's resolution was to find a new career, and I'm wondering if I could become a teacher. I was a marketing executive before I had my children. The problem is that I want to teach primary-age children, but my degree was in business studies. What are my chances?

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