What is: School refusal?

This one is for the parents!

School refusal is when kids don’t want to go to school. For their own reasons, going to school is distressing to them, causing them anxiety or distress, so they try to avoid going to school

School refusal differs from truancy, in that the motivation is more directed by anxiety and discomfort, rather than truancy generally being motivated by issues with authority or behaviour.

Children experiencing this may;

  • Be distressed upon waking up on a school day
  • Complain of being sick in the morning
  • Find excuses not to go
  • Be sad or visibly upset at the school gates or on the trip to school

Managing school refusal can be tricky!

School refusal can be signalling many things. It is often a cry for help – even if they’re not ready or willing to admit it. For whatever reason, the child doesn’t want to be at school, which should be a safe, stable, supportive and social place.

Children may be avoiding school due to;

  • socialising, fitting in, and belonging issues (see Brene Brown for a fantastic exploration of the difference between “fitting in” and “belonging”.
  • learning difficulties – how often did we avoid a topic at school because we weren’t getting it?
  • conflict with teachers – teachers are people too, and aren’t always easy to get on with for our kids.
  • exam anxiety – how many of us can relate to this?
  • bullying or friendship issues
  • an unsettled family life – separation or divorce or illness.
  • anxiety regarding being separated from family

Managing school refusal during Covid-19 has been an interest of mine – times have been stressful for us all, and try as we might, kids take notice when we’re stressed, and it affects them.

School refusal isn’t a formal diagnosis, but there is professional treatment for it. Your child’s school staff will likely be experienced in managing it, but your first port of call should be a GP to eliminate any physical reasons for illness. From there you can access a counsellor, psychologist, or discuss it with the school’s wellbeing team.

Treating school refusal will require a lot of patience, understanding and co-operation – you’re probably going to come up against resistance from your child in facing what it is they’re trying to avoid. Growth can be uncomfortable – and breaking the pattern of anxiety-retreat-comfort offered by school refusal is no exception.

But together, you, your child, and the right support can overcome it and help your child’s time at school become a more educational, social and productive experience.

Reach out

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