It can be a frustrating time for a parent – after all, the trouble is usually sandwiched into that narrow stretch of time between getting the kids out of bed and having to get to work yourself – but a child’s ongoing refusal to go to school can be a symptom of more underlying problems.
School avoidance and refusal – tied in with the anxiety a child might feel about school – usually manifests itself via a child’s simple, knee-jerk response that they “hate school” or “don’t like school” but can point towards many different issues.
- Learning difficulties: If your child finds it hard to pay attention or keep up in class it may be a sign that they have issues seeing or hearing well, or a pointer towards learning issues.
- Social difficulties: Bullying, teasing and finding it tough to make friends can all contribute to anxiety in children.
- Pressure and anxiety: No matter how simple a world it may look to an adult, the school environment can be a complex place for an anxious child coping with the pressure of being called up to speak in class, take part in group activities or achieve as well as their peers.
- Separation anxiety: The persistent refusal or reluctance to go to school is one of the contributing criteria for this recognised disorder. If you recognise it in conjunction with other pointers (such as recurrent excessive distress when anticipating or experiencing separation from major attachment figures, recurrent nightmares about separation, and repeated complaints about physical symptoms such as nausea or vomiting when separation is expected or experienced) then it’s important to seek professional child or family therapy.
The impact of school avoidance can be very great with studies demonstrating that those who missed classes for at least a month during their school years “significantly often” left school without graduating and were more pessimistic to the question of the likelihood of finding employment in the coming two years.
Because of both the complicated social and emotional reasons behind school avoidance – as well as the demonstrable impact of missing out on the school environment – it’s important for parents not to play along with the child’s wishes.
Despite it often seeming like the easiest option, keeping a child at home only reinforces any underlying anxiety and doesn’t address the issues which have brought the anxieties to the surface.
Working with a child or family therapist will help create a support network which allows the child and parents to deal with the issues at hand as well as provide a platform for the child to explore underlying issues which have led to anxiety surround school.
As with most types of anxiety, the longer it’s left, the greater it becomes so the earlier that parents recognise how therapy can help, the more quickly those benefits can appear.