refusal By Ailsa Lord (Child and Adolescent Psychologist, Lakeside Psychology) SCHOOL refusal is a term that refers to a child who is anxious about going to school, and trying to reduce their distress by avoiding that situation. This is quite separate from “wagging” or truancy which is more common in teenagers, although both result in frequent absences and lateness to school. There are two main concerns about school refusal. Firstly, each day that a child has away from school represents a day of learning missed. If school refusal is happening frequently, your child’s education could be at risk. Secondly, every day that your child uses avoidance to solve a problem in their life, they are learning to ignore problems and missing out on an opportunity to solve things with your
family and school’s support. Most often children will not say “I am anxious”, but might say things like “I don’t want to go”, “I feel sick” or “I don’t like school”. Younger children, and even many teens, don’t really realise that this reluctance to go to school is linked with anxiety, and for these reasons it can be hard as a parent to recognise that the core issue is anxiety. Here are some other examples of how school refusal is displayed: “Sally said I couldn’t play”: friendship concerns including exclusion/namecalling etc. This might encourage parents to focus on bullying concerns. A child that is frequently and legitimately sick: This might mean that parents can find it hard to tell when a child is too sick to go to school, and is well enough to go but is anxious about doing so.
The child unconsciously implying that you are an uncaring parent if you send them to school: children are well adapted to try and get what helps them to feel better at the time, even if that means inadvertently guilt-tripping parents. This is normal and may need to be expected and managed. “I don’t want to leave you at home”: This is especially the case if there is a sick parent and your child has taken on some of a caring role. Some signs that anxiety might be the reason that your child does not want to go to school include: More frequent occurrences of refusal after breaks from school such as holidays, after weekend, and after time away from school due to illness. Increase in complaints/tantrums about not wanting to go to school the night before school is due back (e.g. Sunday night).
When your child is distracted or doing something fun, they appear to feel better. After it has been agreed that they are not going to school for the day, there is an improvement in symptoms. Your child has a tendency to be anxious in other situations, and tends to withdraw when they are overwhelmed. School refusal can be more likely to occur when there have been changes in a child’s life, for example a sick family member, parental separation, or recent trauma.
What parents can do about school refusal Offer empathy, which can facilitate a conversation about why they do not want to go to school. Try to not jump into problem solving straight away – your child needs to feel that you understand what the problem is before you go into solving it.
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4 AUTUMN 2017
Published on Mar 13, 2017