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School Refusal

school refusal

How to deal with a Child that refuses to go to school?

“NO!” The last emphatic thing heard while your child storms up the stairs and slams the door to their room. You are left standing by the door holding a backpack and a lunchbox. You look at the time (8:00) if you don’t leave soon your child will be late again… what do you do…

First consider the reasons why the child doesn’t want to go to school. Do they have a big test that day? Are they having trouble with friends? Many children skip school (either directly or by faking sickness) when experiencing anxiety. Be firm with your child and let them know that skipping school is not an option. Listen to why then don’t want to go to school and try to explain why things aren’t as bad a s they seem. Under no circumstances mention that maybe they could skip, or that they could switch school, or my homeschooled as your child will seize upon that idea and become fixated upon that hope whenever they have a bad day at school.

If anxiety is their trigger for the pre-school meltdown, try to make mornings stress free with very little rush to their day starts out well. If your child point blank refuses to go to school several days in a row, consider contacting the guidance counselor at the school ( if the problem is with a teacher or class) or a therapist ( such as one at the Sachs Center) for your child to learn to deal with their anxiety in a constructive way. Once the child has worked through whatever fear is holding them back from attending school, they will be able to resume as normal. When they do so, it is important to minimize the stress levels associated with returning after an absence (such as make up work).

Some tips to help anxiety-ridden children with school refusal is to break things into manageable parts. A three page paper becomes an outline, and two separate occasions of writing the essay. Homework planners and prioritizing assignment can also aid in minimizing stress. Overall, if your child is very reluctant to go to school, let them talk about what is bothering them, by talking it out, their problems are in the open and can begin to be solved.

For a child, even an older one, going to school might stink. It might be the torment of their day. Or it could be that waking up early and sitting still all day in class just isn’t what your kid is about. And that’s okay. Between 5% and 28% of kids exhibit reluctance to go to school at some point to the point of truancy or just flat out refusing to go.   What is not okay, and detrimental to both your child and your family is indulging them in this desire.

Volunteering in the classroom, or offering home-schooling as an alternative is shown to prove to your child that they cannot face whatever it is that they are anxious about at school. Tests and friendships can be hard but it is part of life to face things that make us uncomfortable and to overcome them. Parents, naturally, want to shield their child from all distress, but doing so increases the child’s anxiety even more. When the child hits puberty, this anxiety can manifest itself in detrimental ways.

Research shows that children with untreated school refusal at ages 12 and 13 were more likely to be receiving psychological treatment and still be living with their parents 25 years later. This parental urge to protect your child from the anxieties of the world can weaken their ability to deal with issues as adults.  When these children, who were indulged in their school refusal as a kid, go out on their own to college, they are less equipped to deal with their anxiety. Uncontrolled anxiety can lead to increased use of alcohol or drugs.

School Refusal

But all bad future consequences can stem from early development and can be prevented. Separation anxiety about little things (like walking to the school bus or being left alone at school) can make a child more unsettled during the day and more susceptible to other anxieties.  Many children disguise this anxiety (either because they don’t know how to express it or out of fear) as illness. An easy way for a parent to tell whether the child is actually sick is if the illness “mysteriously” goes away over the weekend, or threatening a trip to the doctor.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, like that practiced by the Sachs Center, can be very beneficial to helping a child overcome school refusal early. Through this therapy, the children learn to master their fear and not let it control them. Building confidence in themselves and their abilities which will have lasting effects long past elementary or middle school. Working through these issues could not only work toward preventing alcohol and drug abuse at college but will produce a more confident and capable adult.

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