School refusal is a phobia of school and the very mention of school can bring on anxious thoughts and feelings. 50% of children who refuse to go to school meet the criteria for a specific anxiety disorder. Because school refusal is anxiety based, it should not be confused with truancy. If your child is playing truant, then there are serious consequences but with school refusal, the local authorities should be equipped to help and support your child and your family.
I regularly receive calls from parents who are having trouble getting their child to consider going into school. Many children and young people withdraw from friends and family, get upset when school is mentioned, have anxiety or panic attacks on school days, lash out at family members, have major meltdowns and refuse to talk about it. Some children stay in their beds all day and some jump out of the car, lock themselves in the car or hide in the boot. Whatever the reaction, school refusal can very distressing for the whole family.
Here are some other, more subtle signs of school refusal:
- Complaints of headaches or stomach ache, feeling dizzy, exhausted , chest pains or muscle pains.
- frequent calls home
- difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
- reluctant to complete homework
- illnesses on test days
The ideal scenario is that your child should go back to school as soon as possible with support in place so their academic, social and daily life is not affected for too long. However, that can be a leap too far for some children. Maybe you’ll need to work closely with the school, local authorities and other agencies to help get your child to start going back to school or start afresh at another school. The crucial thing to point out here is that as soon as you get other organisations involved, you are not alone in managing this anymore. Everyone should be working towards the same goal which is helping your child to get back on track, develop friendships and social skills, learn, have a structure and routine, and build on other skills and personal strengths.
My role as a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist is to identify and explore the difficulties your child has about going into school. We then work together to share and then face these difficulties using a problem solving approach. We also think of strategies that can help your child to manage their anxiety, such as developing a routine and structure to improve mood levels or ways to improve confidence in social situations or better sleep patterns.
Getting back to school can be a long process and there maybe setbacks along the way. It takes children and young people a lot of courage to get back on track again.
If you’d like more information about how I can support you and your family with school refusal, why not call me on 0161 8831156 or drop me a line via email.