As a parent or caregiver, watching your child struggle with school and/or refuse to go can be incredibly difficult. School refusal behavior is characterized by a child’s persistent and excessive avoidance of school or difficulty remaining in school for an entire day. It can be triggered by a variety of factors, including anxiety, depression, bullying, and learning difficulties. If left unaddressed, school refusal behavior can lead to academic and social problems, as well as long-term mental health issues.
Understand the Causes of School Refusal Behavior
The first step in addressing school refusal behavior is understanding its underlying causes. Anxiety is one of the most common triggers of school refusal behavior. When faced with the prospect of going to school, children with anxiety may experience physical symptoms such as stomach aches, headaches, and nausea. Depression can also contribute to school refusal behavior, as can bullying and learning difficulties. It’s important to recognize the signs of school refusal behavior, including crying, tantrums, physical complaints, and outright refusal to attend school.
Underlying Sensory Sensitivity
Some children have anxiety and depression because the school environment is too overwhelming from a sensory standpoint. Sensory processing is how we take in sensory information and make sense of it. A child with sensory sensitivities can often experience school as being too loud, too bright/busy, and too much unpredictable touch standing or while at PE and recess. Since it takes less sensory input for their body to notice, they may be in a state of fight or flight or on high guard all day to prevent becoming overwhelmed. Eventually, this can lead a child to be anxious or depressed.
Communicate Effectively with Your Child
Effective communication can go a long way in easing your child’s anxiety and building trust. Listen actively to your child’s concerns and validate their feelings. Let them know that you understand how they feel and that you’re there to support them. Avoid pressuring your child to go to school, as this can increase their anxiety. Instead, work with them to develop a plan for addressing their concerns.
Create a Supportive Home Environment
Creating a safe and supportive environment at home can help your child feel more comfortable and confident. Establish routines and set boundaries to provide structure and stability. Encourage self-care activities such as exercise, meditation, and relaxation techniques. Provide a quiet space for your child to retreat to when they’re feeling overwhelmed. It’s also important to model healthy coping behaviors, such as expressing emotions and seeking help when needed.
Work with Your Child’s School
The school plays a crucial role in addressing school refusal behavior. Communicate with your child’s teachers and administrators to let them know about your child’s concerns. Work together to develop a plan for addressing your child’s needs, such as accommodations for anxiety or bullying prevention measures. It’s important to advocate for your child’s needs, and staying involved in their education is important.
Consider Professional Help and Resources
If your child’s school refusal behavior persists, seeking professional help and resources may be helpful. It is important to determine if sensory processing difficulties are at the root of the child’s anxiety surrounding school. Occupational therapists are uniquely trained to look at the whole child and provide your child with the tools they need to cope with school-related stressors. At Connect Pediatric Therapy, we specialize in working with kiddos who struggle with sensory processing and self-regulation struggles. Feel free to reach out to us to schedule a FREE phone consultation to determine if your child could benefit from working with one of our occupational therapists. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone and that resources are available to help you and your child.
School refusal behavior can be challenging for parents and caregivers to address. However, by understanding the underlying causes of school refusal behavior, communicating effectively with your child, creating a supportive home environment, working with your child’s school, and seeking professional help and resources, you can help your child overcome their anxiety and succeed in school. Remember to be patient, supportive, and empathetic as you work with your child to address their concerns. With the right tools and support, your child can thrive both academically and emotionally.