School Refusal across the Ages


School Refusal from Preps to Teens and how to help

School refusal is recognised in children who develop a strong resistance about going to school, resulting in repeated periods of absences or “sick days” under their parents’ knowledge and permission. Children demonstrating the signs of school refusal usually display high levels of distress and anxiety before going to school, or during the school day, and many of their symptoms may be disguised as self-reported physical illnesses, such as nausea, diarrhoea, stomach pain, headaches, and dizziness. It is important for parents and teachers to acknowledge that school refusal is not a disorder in itself, but the child’s method of dealing with an underlying psychological issue, rooted in anxiety.

What are the signs of school refusal?Daughter Clinging To Working Mother's Leg - school refusal how to help

There are many possible reasons why children can develop a reluctance about attending school, and usually these align with their age group. Listed below are some of the most common behavioural warning signs to look out for, and the possible underlying causes across the varying age groups of school children:

… in preps and pre-schoolers:                  

  • Tantrums / crying
  • Excessively clingy behaviour to parents
  • Refusal to leave the house or not getting out of the car to go to school
  • Repeated visits to the school nurse asked to be sent home or lengthy stays in the sick bay

Common underlying causes:

  • Fear of something bad happening to parents, family members, or home
  • Fear of parents leaving them or separating
  • Fear of being left at school and forgotten about

Dreading Going Back to School - school refusal how to help

…in the 7-13 age group:

  • Repeated visits to the school nurse asked to be sent home
  • Lengthy stays in the sick bay
  • Avoidance behaviour
  • Social isolation
  • Refusing to get out of bed and get ready for school
  • Feeling “sick” on particular days of the week

Common underlying causes:

  • Fear of being bullied
  • Social anxiety
  • Academic or school sport pressure or ridicule
  • Transition from primary to secondary school
  • Family stress or change in home life
  • Problems with teachers or friends

 close up boy

 …in the 14-18 age group:

Signs similar to the 7-13 age group

Common underlying causes:

  • Fear of being bullied or not having friends
  • Fear of not doing well academically (or in fact doing too well!)
  • Fear of being peer pressured to conform (to do things they wouldn’t normally do)
  • Social anxiety
  • School sport pressure or ridicule
  • Transition from primary to secondary school
  • Family stress or change in home life
  • Problems with teachers or friends
  • Change in schools and having to make new friends

Having some trouble at school- school refusal how to help

How to tell when it’s a problem?

While allowing your child to have the odd sick day here and there appears to be harmless in theory, or thinking that their unwillingness to attend school is “just a phase” they will grow out of, it is important to recognise when to draw the line between what’s acceptable and what’s not– as prolonged school absences in children may lead to learning impairments and prevent them from gaining the essential social skills they require later in life. What’s more, if the underlying issues (that are causing the school refusal) are left unaddressed, they may only worsen and lead to more engrained, harder to resolve psychological issues as adults.

How can I help my child?

  • Remain persistent, giving firm messages about attending school as a “must”
  • Make sure messages given by both parents are consistent
  • Notify teachers of the situation so that an appropriate plan of action can be devised and facilitated, incorporating gradual exposure back into school
  • Remain positive about school and try to establish a stable morning routine
  • Talk and listen to them – show them you care about what they have to say and that they can confide in you with whatever is troubling them
  • Encourage out of school hobbies and interests
  • Develop a compliance based reward system
  • Avoid reacting to their defiant behaviour angrily or aggressively – make sure you differentiate between being firm and coming across as “the big bad wolf”

 

 involved dad school lunch

 

 

Who we recommend at Anxiety House

Dr. Angela Randell

Angela is a Clinical Psychologist with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency and has completed a PhD in clinical psychology. She has published research about family influences on social-cognitive development in pre-schoolers and has an interest in human development across the lifespan. She has over eight years’ experience working with clients experiencing anxiety and other mental health issues, in both public and private settings, and was previously Senior Psychologist at Child and Youth Mental Health Service. She is a clinical supervisor (STAP trained). She utilises cognitive behavioural therapy, acceptance commitment therapy and schema therapy in her work with clients.

 

Availability: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

Treatment Areas

  • Anxiety of any type
  • OCD
  • Mood Disorders
  • working with children and teenagers and their families
  • working with children with anxiety and co–morbid autism spectrum

 

 

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