How to respond to school refusal in children
For many young students, the school may provide a sense of belonging, learning, and community. However, any student will be concerned about events at school from time to time. For some students, a school might become difficult or stressful over time, and hence the problem of school refusal arises.
While some school anxiety is understandable, consider the parents whose school-going problems have a whole new meaning. Their child’s aversion to school has developed into a more serious psychological issue known as school refusal.
School refusal affects about 1-2 percent of students, who get highly disturbed at the idea of going to school and miss school for lengthy periods.
Unlike truancy, young children diagnosed with school anxiety and hence school refusal have other behavioural issues: their parents know where they are and refuse to go to school despite their parents’ best attempts.
School refusal is frequent after a period of absence from schools – such as due to illness or vacations – or a significant shift, such as beginning a new school or transitioning from elementary to secondary school.
No one factor or person is to blame for school refusal; caused by a complex interaction of multiple risk factors. Most of which involves the child, like fear of failure, their family (such as overprotective parenting or illness), the school (such as bullying), and social challenges (such as pressure to achieve academically).
What options do you have?
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is often applied to treat school refusal, as it encourages relaxation, challenges anxious beliefs, and supports progressive exposure to phobia. Parent therapy to explore the best support techniques is offered, as well as school liaisons.
The goal of intervention is to teach students how to cope with anxiety or discomfort while also improving their attendance at school.
According to research, school attendance can be improved with expert help, although worry can last for a long time.
Here’s what you can do if your child refuses to go to school or if you’re helping another parent or child in a similar situation:
1. Seek assistance
Schools and parents sometimes wait until an issue is well-established before taking action. Unfortunately, every day lost at school influences academic performance. Frequent absences have been linked to more significant risks of early school dropout, emotional and behavioural problems, and poor social integration.
To reduce the likelihood of these consequences in young children, you must act quickly, mobilize your support network, and, if necessary, seek professional assistance.
2. Think about potential causes
Ask your youngster to discuss the main problems of going to school when you’re both calm (not on school mornings). You might address these issues or devise a plan to deal with them if you work together.
You may need to utilize the observe-validate-redirect approach with more minor children or those who have difficulty expressing their feelings.
3. Adopt a kind yet strong demeanour
It’s critical to be kind to your child since they are going through a difficult time. Kindness may be demonstrated by listening when someone expresses their concerns, showing physical love, or being calm in the face of adversity.
Encouragement of kids to overcome their anxieties also helps; it fosters confidence and autonomy. On the other hand, avoiding anxiety causes increased stress in the long run.
Be gentle but firm in commitment to work with your child to overcome their unwillingness to attend school.
4. Communicate in a clear and consistent manner
There are minor but significant variations in how parents communicate about school attendance, according to research and our own clinical experience. While the parent is supportive and worried, the verbal signals about school attendance are unclear, and the parent leaves the room distraught.
A more practical method would be:
Getting the kid up at the same time every day with enough time to get ready for school and sending clear signals regarding school attendance such as “it’s time to get up for school” and “I know you don’t want to go, but we can’t let you stay at home.”
If the kid becomes anxious, encourage a graded approach to the morning: “Let’s focus on breakfast first,” “Let’s get your school bag organized,” and so on.
- Establish clear procedures for days when school is not in session
Positive incentives for staying at home can help a lot, such as the chance to sleep in and spend the day resting, watching TV and playing video games, or getting more individual attention from a parent. But it might make it difficult for well-intentioned parents to push their children to attend school.
Set up a home schedule that is comparable to school if your child is at home on school days:
By the time school starts, you should be awake and dressed. During school hours, restrict access to television and the internet. Encourage the youngster to finish their schoolwork.
After school hours, restrict one-on-one contact with the parent. Reduce activities such as shopping that take place outside of the house.
- Make the system work for you
Parents, the school, the young person, and any other experts involved, such as your child’s GP, should all be informed and have clear expectations. These students frequently present to instructors or sickbay workers at school with various medical symptoms, including headaches and stomach pains. These symptoms are most likely anxiety-related in the absence of a medical disease. If you’re worried, take the kid to the doctor to rule out any medical problems.
Discuss your child’s difficulties with their classroom teacher and year-level coordinator. They can assist with the development of a plan for school drop-offs and any other social or learning problems.
It’s essential to take preventative measures and identify school refusal as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the longer a child is gone from school, the more difficult it is to reestablish a schedule, as being absent is highly reinforcing bad behaviour. So, let’s try to implement the different ways you can help your child get to their schooling at the right age.