It’s that time of year again where we prepare our children and teens for another school year. It feels like we just settled into warmer weather, but the school supplies are popping up in stores, family vacations are wrapping up, and students are picking up their schedules in the next couples of weeks. With the transition back to school approaching, families might start to recognize that their student is not that eager to get back into routine. It’s typical to see our kids experience nervousness and anticipation during this transition, but what happens if we recognize that the nervousness manifests into something else months into the school year? School mornings become a battle to get our kids out the door? Kids complaining of physical symptoms shortly before it’s time to leave? Frequent trips to the nurse’s office and calling home?
School refusal is an anxiety-based disorder that affects 2-5% of school aged children. It describes the refusal to go to school on a regular basis or having problems staying in school. While children who suffer from school refusal tend to have an average to above average intelligence, this disorder could develop into serious social, emotional, and educational problems if the fear and anxieties keep them away from school for a period of time.
If you find that your child experiences or have experienced school refusal before, seeking professional guidance can reveal the real reasons behind the refusal and the proper way to pursue treatment. Here are some tips for parents to support their students during the school year:
• Openly talk with your child about their feelings and fears. Validating their feelings and taking the time to hear what they are experiencing will help reduce the fears and anxiety.
• Exposing your child to the school in small degrees and increasing the exposure over time. This will allow your child to become more acclimated with the environment, staff, their teachers, and recognizing there is nothing to fear or nothing bad will happen.
• Arrange an informal meeting with your child’s teacher to discuss concerns and plan of action.
• Reach out to the school counselor for extra support and collaboration with the treatment plan. This will also help establish a support system for your child with a variety of people encouraging him or her along the way.
• Encourage fun activities and hobbies for your child. This can be a good distraction and boost your child’s self-esteem, socially and emotionally.
• Remind your child of the positive aspects of school such as friends and peers, learning their favorite subject, and playing at recess.
If you find that your child continues to struggle with school refusal, seek out professional help and work together with the therapist as a family so your child can thrive and succeed in their school career.