The term ‘school refusal’ refers to when a young child refuses to attend school due to severe emotional distress, most commonly a symptom of anxiety. Whilst it isn’t abnormal for children to occasionally want to miss a day of school, this avoidant behaviour can morph into school anxiety when presented repetitively. Repeated school refusal significantly affects a child’s learning and development. More than that, it can have detrimental impacts on their social abilities and routine. Developmental psychology tells us that routine is incredibly important for young children, creating a sense of security as well as instilling early ideas of responsibility and work ethic. Subsequently, the longer the problem of school refusal continues, the harder it becomes for the child to become accustomed to the routine of school, making it critical for early diagnosis and interventions for school refusal.
The first school refusal tip for parents is to identify the signs. Common manifestations of school refusal include: tears before school, commonly complaining about being sick before school, conflict with family members before or after school, refusing to leave their bed in the morning, an exacerbation of any of these particularly around first days back at school after the holidays and spending large amounts of time in sick bay.
Once parents have identified these signs, it is crucial to provide the child with support to work through their school refusal related anxiety. It is important to ascertain if the child is reluctant to attend school due to a bullying issue. If this is the case, we recommend contacting the school immediately. Similarly, children with anxiety regarding school are often worried about academic performance, which can be easily fixed with the help of teachers and tutors. Beyond this, it can be useful to create a plan with your child. You may want to build a comprehensive plan that builds a timetable and rewards your child when they attend a consecutive week of school. Further, speaking to the school can be additionally helpful. If teachers are aware of the situation, they may have additional strategies to help your child become comfortable and happy when attending school. Regardless of the steps you take, try to include your child in these discussions as much as possible. This will help them feel that their input is important.
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