Battling School Refusal By Students

by Cassidy Welling

'School refusal' is the scientific term for a child's REFUSAL TO ATTEND SCHOOL owing to anxiety or depression. Previously known as 'school phobia', it affects between 2% and 5% of children, and encompasses nursery-aged children with separation anxiety, as well as severe cases where an older child can miss weeks or months of school because of their fear of attendance. What factors cause refusal, and what can teachers, tutors and students do to MAKE SCHOOL A HAVEN instead of a battlefield?

Causes Of School Refusal

There are many reasons why CHILDREN MAY DISLIKE ATTENDING SCHOOL, or even fear it. These include academic struggles, an overload of information or a feeling of being under intense pressure, and bullying. It is vital for parents, teachers and tutors to watch out for signs of bullying in particular because this life event is known TO HAVE LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES for a child's physical and mental health when they are adults. School refusal has been found to happen more often after holidays and weekends, and at the beginning and end of the school year.

Characteristics Of Students Who Refuse To Go To School

A REPORT BY M WIMMER entitled School Refusal: Information for Educators outlines the characteristics of students who may display signs of school refusal. Commonly, symptoms of anxiety, depression and physical complaints (without the presence of a medical condition) may be present. Wimmer reminds parents and all educators to be vigilant about common warning signs (such as frequent unexcused absences or tardiness, absences on exam days, or frequent requests to see the school nurse) because taking action quickly is vital. Wimmer says: "A team approach to assessment and early intervention involving family, educators, and community providers increases the probability of a successful solution." This team can comprise the child's parents, learning mentor, school psychologist, and anyone with vital information about the child. In this sense, the information provided by a teacher can also be helpful.

Strategies For Success

Children with a mental condition such as anxiety or depression can benefit greatly from therapy. Various treatments and therapies may be recommended, INCLUDING COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY (CBT), which helps a child understand the link between their thoughts, behaviours and emotions. The child might be asked to keep a journal and make one or more small behavioural changes; for instance, writing down the thoughts and emotional sensations caused by these changes. The school can work alongside other members of the team to create a successful re-entry plan.

Re-Entering The School System

Often, a 'little by little' approach is taken. For instance, a child may re-enter school progressively or consider part-time schooling. They may also be given a 'buddy' at school, which can be especially useful at lunch and other breaks. Parents play a vital role in supporting a child through this time, making the necessary amendments so that children feel more comfortable (a child may benefit greatly, for instance, by being driven to school instead of taking the school bus). Teachers and support staff, meanwhile, can show support by aiming to reduce anxiety in class and offering a different exam environment if necessary. For instance, a child with school refusal may be asked to complete an essay instead of an oral assessment. Teachers and schools can also strictly enforce anti-bullying policies, giving children the tools and understanding they need to report any incidents of bullying quickly and efficiently.

School refusal affects up to 5% of children from nursery-age upwards. It is an issue that should be taken seriously and tackled immediately. Schools, teachers, nurses, psychologists, tutors, parents, and any other adults in a child's life can work together to formulate a re-entry plan. Any child with a mental condition should be treated by a therapist, who can help ensure problems like bullying do not have long-term effects on a child's future.

Tags: mental health bullying
Categories: school