By: Alison Bellevue, Psy.D. | Director of Child, Adolescent, and Family Services
Is it extraordinarily hard to get your kid out the door for school? Does your son insist that he has a stomach ache and can’t make it in that day? Does your daughter pretend she doesn’t hear her alarm or your frequent requests to get out of bed? If you can relate to this, your child may be experiencing school refusal. With the holidays coming up, it is even more important to be on the lookout for this behavior, as it is challenging for some kids to get back to school following an extended vacation.
School refusal occurs when a child refuses to go to school on a regular basis or has significant difficulty remaining in school. Children suffering from school refusal are often experiencing underlying anxiety and are not refusing school to be oppositional or defiant. Anxiety-based school refusal affects 2 to 5 percent of school-age children and most frequently occurs between the ages of five and six and between ten and eleven, also during times of transition, such as entering middle or high school, or following a move. While school refusal typically occurs with younger children, it can affect older children as well.
What can you do?
Be on the lookout for any patterns in your child’s school refusal. If you’re noticing that your child is avoiding school on certain days or avoiding certain classes, ask your child if there is a problem at school that you can help solve.
Acknowledge your child’s emotions about school and help emphasize the positives.
Take your child to school in the morning. Collaborate with your child’s school to help your child enter school gradually.
Set expectations for her while she is home on a school day. Ask your child’s school for work that can be done while your child is home. Take away electronics. Make school rules apply to home during school hours.
Reward going to school (not forever, just until they can get back into the swing of things).
Having a child who refuses to go to school can be stressful for everyone. Seeking support from a mental health professional who specializes in working with children/adolescents who suffer with anxiety can help your child transition back to school and support you through the process as well. Working with a clinician trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help!