Going to school is a big deal, no matter your child’s age. Thinking about what to expect in the upcoming school year can be exciting, overwhelming, and scary. It’s perfectly reasonable to have some reservations about a new school year. Being nervous is one thing. But a child refusing to go to school is another.
If your child experiences extreme distress about going to school, causing them to miss part or entire school days, you are dealing with “school refusal.” It’s important to understand they aren’t behaving this way to be difficult or obstinate. School refusal is an emotional problem requiring patience, compassion, and understanding.
Regular Avoidance vs. School Refusal
Many children resist going to school now and then. They’d rather stay home and have fun! It’s understandable. But if you have a child refusing to attend school regularly, it’s crucial to recognize their behavior patterns to identify an underlying issue.
School refusal is distinguished from regular avoidance by several factors:
- how strongly the child resists
- how long a child has been avoiding school
- how much distress they associate with attending school
- how much their resistance interferes with their life and the lives of their loved ones
Evaluating these factors is essential because school refusal can still be an issue even if they attend on most days. Even if your child doesn’t miss many full days of school, being late on several occasions due to their overwhelming anxiety is still considered school refusal.
Other examples of school refusal include leaving early, texting you throughout the day asking to be picked up, or spending a lot of time in the nurse’s office.
If you recognize any of these patterns with your child refusing to go to school, you’re dealing with school refusal. Seeing a child and adolescent therapist or a child psychiatrist in San Diego can help you navigate the delicate emotions of your child and the challenges you face with school refusal.
Insights Into School Refusal From BOLD Health’s Resident Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Dr. Theodore Germanos
“School refusal is an issue that has been coming up more often nowadays. Again, every child is different, and the approaches necessary may differ, but the goal is the same – you must find a way to take your child to school. Involving school and mental health professionals early on to develop a plan of action is key. The longer a kid misses school, the harder it gets to return.
Occasionally, with the best intentions, parents may attempt to alleviate their children’s discomfort by allowing them to avoid the source of stress, such as school, in this scenario.
Unfortunately, this approach can often worsen the problem and lead to unintended negative consequences.
Children’s initial nervousness about returning to school tends to diminish within a few days as they readjust to the school routine. Involving school and mental health providers early on when facing this problem will make it easier for the child to adjust in the long run.”
Recognizing the Patterns of School Refusal
If your child struggles with the idea of going to school, they may feign sickness to avoid it. They may regularly report unexplained illnesses like stomach or headaches in an attempt to get out of going to school. Of course, if they are sick, keeping them home is important. But if you recognize a pattern of “sickness,” they may be suffering from anxiety.
Mental health and physical health go hand in hand. Anxiety manifests in physical symptoms just as depression does. That means your child’s physical illness symptoms could result from anxiety about going to school. As a parent, your first course of action is to take your child to a pediatrician to ensure you don’t overlook any medical issues.
Sometimes, school refusal is a short-term issue stemming from being out of school due to illness or travel. Your child may struggle with transitioning back to their regular school schedule.
They may be overwhelmed with the amount of homework and make-up work they’ll need to do.
Some kids experience anxiety after long breaks from school, which is understandable. It’s essential to reach out to your child’s teacher(s) and develop a plan to make the transition as easy as possible. The best thing to do is to get them back into school as soon as possible.
Other Possible Causes of School Refusal
If you have a child refusing to go to school, there could be issues going on that you must uncover. Focusing on your child’s needs and overall well-being is imperative. Something specific may be happening at school, such as a challenging class or bullying.
However, they may be too afraid or ashamed to discuss these matters with you. That’s why contacting a child and adolescent therapist in San Diego is essential. A trusted mental health professional with experience working with school refusal issues can help expose why your child refuses to go to school.
Some of the issues your child that may lead to school refusal include the following:
- family or peer conflict
- starting school or changing to a new school
- bullying or teasing
- problems with the teacher
- poor school performance
- stressful events at home or school
Several underlying issues may exist with a child refusing to go to school. With the help of a trained therapist, you and your child can pinpoint these issues so they can get back on the right track and enjoy school again.
Understanding “School Refusal”
You can choose from many options to help your child with school refusal issues. For more severe cases of school refusal, the first line of action in treatment is to get a comprehensive diagnostic assessment.
While school refusal is not considered a diagnosable disorder, it is often accompanied by other disorders like:
- social anxiety
- panic disorder
- separation anxiety
A complete assessment allows professionals to fully understand the cause(s) of school refusal. When you partner with BOLD Health, we’ll ensure we understand your child and what is troubling them. This will allow us to create the best treatment plan to help them overcome their struggles.
You Can Count On Our Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist in San Diego, Dr. Germanos
Finding the proper treatment for your child shouldn’t be an additional stress for you or your child. Dr. Germanos, a child psychiatrist in San Diego, has extensive experience working with children, adolescents, and young adults dealing with school refusal, depression, anxiety, and more.