What is school refusal and what can cause it?
A certain amount of reluctance, for example after school holidays, is normal, but some parents experience an epic struggle with school refusal. Approximately one to two percent of children are afflicted with school refusal, becoming seriously distressed at the idea of going back to school, and are recorded as having prolonged absences.
School refusal often occurs after a period of absence from school (after illness or holidays) or a big change (starting a new school or moving from primary to high school). It is important to recognise that it’s not due to any one factor or person.
Rather, it is caused by a mixture of a number of risk factors experienced by the child (fear of failure), their family (helicopter parenting, family conflict or illness), the school (bullying), moving home or social challenges (academic pressure). It could also be related to undiagnosed learning difficulties or a feeling of isolation.
Children diagnosed with school refusals don’t have behavioural concerns; their parents know where they are. They just stay home at despite parents trying their utmost to get them to go to school.
Find out how serious it is by asking “What would happen if you didn’t go to school today?” Sometimes a child will have a thought process about it and decide to go after all. However, if it’s serious and not a transient problem, don’t wait too long and let the problem become worse. Watch for patterns. Observe the degree of severity.
Signs can include
- Separation anxiety
- Crying or tantrums
- Refusal to move
- Changes in mood and behaviour
- Hiding under the bedding
- Begging not to go
- Negative experiences at school
- Frequent visits to the sick bay or parent being called often to fetch their ‘sick’ child
- Complaining of aches which improve if you let your child remain home; and
- Overall high levels of anxiety.
The most important things NOT to do include:
- Making your child feel ashamed or punish them for not wanting to go to school
- Telling the child’s friends or peers about it
- Threatening your child
- Making fun of, or letting your other children make fun of, the child
- Assume it’s a phase and it will be resolved without any effort.