Everyday, in cities around the world, 1 to 4 children will not go to school. Not because they are ill, or a death in the family, but simply because they refuse to go. Reasons can be as varied as a test the child did not prepare for, or a blemish on the skin. School phobia, or “school refusal is an serious and recognized anxiety disorder. Astonishingly, this disorder is more common than some better known child disorders such as ADHD or autism. Children are vague in their complaints and have a hard time trying to verbalize what is making them refuse to go to school. It is usually dismissed as misbehavior. It’s important as a parent to recognize school refusal, because it can stunt your child’s education.
Christopher Kearney, Ph.D., a director of the UNLV Child School Refusal and Anxiety Disorders Clinic says, “You need to look at whether it’s affecting the child or family’s daily functioning,” in order to draw the line between normal or not. If grades are slipping, or a parent is in jeopardy of losing a job from frequent absences, its time to take action. Kearney also says that parents should pay close attention to their children who refuse to go to school for vague reasons such as stomach aches or other mysterious pains. If other general complaints are combined with school refusal, then this can also be a sign to take a closer look for any issues arising at school.
Kearny also states, “There is a subtle difference between school refusal and school refusal behavior.” Children who skip school to play with their friends are exhibiting school refusal behavior, which can be as innocuous as a just trying to fit in or a sense of rebellion. However, a screaming child grasping at a mother’s leg refusing to leave the car is showing signs of school refusal.
The following are some ways to stop school refusal:
– Look into what the problem is at school. If its bullying, then things need a closer look. If your child’s complaint is a valid one, then parents need to work with your child around the issue, at home and at school.
– Reward the child when they go to school. This might be extra video game time or even a special trip on the weekend. Positive reinforcement is more effective than punishing the child for not going to school.
– Work with the school to find out what the problem is. This might even be asking the school for permission to observer what is happening at school, or for the teacher to pay closer attention to the child.
– Set goals for going to school. If the child can at least go to a school for a hour, or go and sit in the lobby, its better than just staying at home.
– Make home life boring. If the child gets to sit around and play video games instead of going to school, then school refusal is a rewarded. Set some boundaries so that the kid will have more reason to go to school.