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School Refusal School is an important time in a child’s life. It’s a time for making friends, learning new things and exploring the world independently. For most children, school is enjoyable and becomes part of the weekly routine with little worry. However, for some, school is the one place they would rather avoid. School refusal behaviour is defined as substantial child-motivated refusal to attend school and/or difficulties remaining in school for an entire day. While it can affect children from age 5-17, it most commonly occurs in children aged 10 – 13, or during times of transition as children enter new schools. A child may display intense negative reactions to school such as crying, clinging and tantruming. They may complain of stomach aches and headaches and plead to stay home. These maladies disappear once they are allowed to stay home. An older child, under duress may attend school but leave later in the day, or truant altogether. Not because of boredom or delinquent reasons, but because of genuine anxiety. The source of anxiety could stem from an overwhelming dread of being separated from a parent, being bullied, a fear of failure at school, poor social relationships, or a cry for attention. Children who are undergoing family conflict or who have underlying mood or anxiety disorders have also known to display school refusal behaviour. In some instances, school refusal may resolve with little intervention. However, any school refusal behaviour that lasts for more than two weeks should be considered substantial, and needful of help. The longer it is left unaddressed, the more likely it is to have a significant disruption in the child’s education and development. Help is available for this common and highly treatable behaviour. Typically a psychologist is able to assess the underlying root of the anxiety and help the child and parents integrate coping and stress reduction techniques, anxious thought challenging, building a gradual tolerance to the feared situations. Seeing a psychologist can help parents understand and manage their child’s refusal to go to school, thus decreasing the stress placed on the child and the family, and increasing the likelihood of an enjoyable and memorable school career. Valerie Ling BA(Hons), MClin Psych, MAPS Clinical Psychologist Macquarie Clinic www.valerieling.com


School Refusal