Unhappy child at school

School Refusal and Anxiety

Does your child miss a lot of school? Do you think it could be linked to anxiety?

Anxiety-based school refusal affects up to 5% of school-aged kids. It happens most commonly between ages 6 and 7, or 10 and 12. However, it can happen at any age, and often happens most during periods of transition (i.e. from elementary school to middle school.)

What’s it look like? Well, it most often occurs as physical symptoms right before school, which go away once the child has been cleared to stay home. While it might be tempting to believe a child is faking, it’s important to notice that anxiety often has physical manifestations, including stomach issues, nausea, and headaches. Physical symptoms that stem from anxiety are still real.

Other times, this anxiety might manifest itself in flat-out refusal. A child may become completely intractable, stubborn, and refuse to leave the house or even their room.

Children who show anxiety-based school refusal are often more intelligent than average, but if they continue to have an unhealthy relationship with school, it’s easy for them to fall behind. So, if your child is manifesting problems with school refusal, here are some tips to help.

First, Talk to the Teacher

Much of the time, anxiety-related school refusal is a result of more complicated challenges that a child is facing internally. However, many times, it’s something that can be simply identified. A child might be dealing with hard coursework, a bully at school, a change in the dynamics of their friend group, etc. If there’s something going on at school a teacher will usually know about it and help you better understand what you child is facing each day.

Open a Conversation with Your Child

Even if you identify a clear cause of school-related anxiety, remember not to dismiss a child’s worries out of hand. Even if they’re irrational, these feelings of panic and anxiety are very real. Giving your child a space for them to confide their worries and fears can go a long way in addressing school refusal. Don’t get tough and shut down their feelings. Encourage them to talk to you about what’s going on–both at school and inside their own mind and body.

Get a Diagnosis

Many parents are hesitant to bring their child to a counselor. They don’t want to admit that something might be wrong, or they don’t want to give the challenge too much hype. Other parents are worried that their child will be medicated when they actually want to try avoiding medication if at all possible.

However, if school refusal is becoming a common problem for you and your child, you need to be armed with a diagnosis. And remember, your child’s treatment plan is in your control. A counselor will work with both you and your child to find solutions for problems.

Having a diagnosis is often a welcome relief for parents. Instead of falling into the trap of blaming themselves for bad parenting, or wondering “what’s wrong” with their child, they have something that they can identify and therefore, counter. A diagnosis allows us to look into solutions that can help. Last of all, a diagnosis and counseling can be necessary when you’re trying to find solutions within a school’s rigid bureaucracy. If your child has an identified disorder, they may be entitled to extra help and exceptions that will help you to better learn to cope.

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