Learning Points: Lessons to be learned for child who fears school

When a family comes to me presenting with this problem, I ask: what is this behaviour trying to communicate? All behaviour is a form of communication, so we have to decipher what the behaviour is telling us. What has occurred to cause this maladaptive behaviour and how can it be changed?

But, as I said last week, sometimes it is not very obvious what is causing the opposition and a child can often struggle to articulate their concerns. This can be very challenging for all involved.

Tips for dealing with your child’s refusal to attend school:

1. Stay calm.

While it can be stressful to watch your child go through school refusal, you must remain clam.

If you become anxious and stressed, you will be communicating to your child that their anxiety is founded and you will further exacerbate the situation.

So, just listen to their concerns in a controlled and non-emotional way. If you do this, you will be able to support them without adding to their stress.

Remember: be by your child’s side, not on it.

2. Talk to the school.

There must be a joint approach to this issue, if it is to be resolved. A teacher will add another lens and help you to work towards a strategy.

If there is not a strain in peer relations and if the school milieu is not the issue, this will help you in your approach. Well, maybe it’s an attachment issue or maybe home life is too appealing.

Through your discussions with the school and your child’s teacher, you will be able to narrow down the root cause.

3. Try to avoid allowing your child stay home.

Even if it’s for an hour, try to get your child to attend school. The more they are allowed to stay home, the more the behaviour becomes entrenched and difficult to break.

I know it can be very unsettling when you are confronted with a child who is nauseous or crying, but when you give into your child’s demands to stay home, you’re reinforcing avoidance and this is not desirable.

So, reaching a compromise will be important early.

Say something like, ‘if you go in for an hour and you still feel the same, you can go to the office and they will ring me.’ Often, we fear the idea of something more than the reality, so by allowing your child to stay at home, you are feeding that fear and this will increase their dread of school.

They come to think that they have been out so long that everyone now will be talking about them. This is a destructive mind-set and it makes going to school nearly impossible for the child.

So, by making them attend even for a class, or for a half-an-hour, you are taking away the potential for those feelings to develop.

4. Have a boundary around technology.

Remove all games and devices from the bedroom. I have noticed that more and more children are presenting with school refusal, because they are just simply tired, after staying up all night playing their games. So, they get into a negative pattern of playing games through the night and staying in bed all day.

Make sure that is not happening. Make the bedroom as unappealing as possible.

5. Be authoritative, not authoritarian.

Keep your plan simple. Have a strategy to make home life like school. If they refuse to go into school, clearly explain to them that they will have to do the schoolwork.

Let them know that you will be in contact with the school and that you will be bringing in their homework the following day.

Make sure the work is corrected and that positive reinforcement is applied. This way, you are making going back to school more appealing. It really is about breaking the cycle of absence.

Children dread going in the longer they are out. And if you keep the connection with the school going, you will make breaking that cycle much easier for your child.

Identify the problem early

School refusal can be a very challenging issue for a family.

Children are required by law to attend school, so when a child starts to develop an opposition, it can put stress on both the school and the family. Early identification is critical.

Understanding the causes of your child’s reluctance to go to school is crucial, if there is going to be a suitable strategy.

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