School Refusal & School Phobia
School Refusal/Phobia and also Separation Anxiety are issues that are close to my heart, especially at the moment.
My daughter’s anxiety before school is at an all time high right now. This quote from National Association of School Psychologists describes the situation for us.
Social anxiety. Some students may feel social anxiety or worry about social interactions with peers and/or teachers. They are uncomfortable in social situations and may dread socializing with classmates.
There are many other reasons for children becoming school phobic and refusing to go to school. These include:
Separation anxiety. Students who refuse school because of separation anxiety may be worried about the safety of a caregiver or other loved one and fear something bad will happen to that individual.It is common for these children to complain about going to school and engage in morning battles before school that may involve crying, yelling, kicking, or running away. While many young children experience separation anxiety in preschool or before going to kindergarten, the behavior is more serious when separation anxiety is so extreme that it results in refusal to attend school.
Performance anxiety. Some students have extreme anxiety about taking tests, giving speeches, or athletic competition in physical education class. Those who have anxiety about these types of performance situations worry about being embarrassed or humiliated in front of their peers.
Generalized anxiety. Some students have a tendency to perceive the world as threatening and have general worries about something bad happening. These children may also have specific fears of disastrous events like tornadoes or war.
Depression. Some students experience depression or both anxiety and depression, and the symptoms include sadness, lack of interest in activities, failure to make expected weight gains, sleep difficulties, feeling tired, feeling worthless, feelings of guilt, and irritability.
Bullying. Some students fear being bullied. These children want to avoid school because of very real situations in which they are physically threatened, teased, or left out by other children.
Health-related concerns. Some students tend to have high rates of physical complaints. Physicians and the school nurse can assist parents and school staff in determining whether a child has a legitimate physical problem or if physical complaints are related to anxiety. School refusal may also develop after a student has been home sick with an actual illness. In these situations the child refuses to go to school even after recovering physically. The child’s physician can communicate with school officials regarding when the child who has been ill can return to school or whether there are any restrictions for the child at school. If there is no medical reason for staying home, the child should be at school.
This isn’t a new problem for us, but I have always, until recently, been able to get my daughter into school on time. On a good morning she will walk in circles around me, spin with her school bag extended or simply read a book (not talking to her class mates). More often she clings to me and has a really difficult time letting go to walk into school in line with the other children.
On bad mornings, she will run away down the street, or hide (near home, thank goodness), refuse to put on her seat belt or fight to get out of the car.
Recently, we have had some really bad mornings, where she has locked me out of the house or locked herself in the car (in the blink of an eye) and we have been late and very upset to go into school.
I am finding that very little is known about this as a real condition. School Phobia and School Refusal are not the same as truanting and can not simply be blamed on a disorganised parent or a child who doesn’t feel like going to school today.
So I find myself asking ‘what can I do’?
We already have a visual timetable so my daughters know what is happening on which day whether it be a school day, after school or a weekend.
I have put my concerns in writing to the school, and asked for their help and advice on what they would like me to do next time we have a ‘really bad morning’. I haven’t yet had a reply, but it has been half term… watch this space.
I am trying to find out exactly what it is about school that is causing the problem, then I can try to address the issues.
I have split the day into sections in a little notebook. My daughter then ‘traffic lights’ the sections at the end of the day when she is calm, by putting a red, orange or green dot next to the section. After she has a visual reminder, she finds it easier to talk about what went wrong and what went right about her day. It is also providing me a way to spot any patterns.
I have found that days where there is a lunchtime activity aren’t so bad, and that days where there is an I.T. lesson are quite good. I have also found that lunch/break times are usually red and also that leaving me in a morning is a difficult time for her. (But I knew that already!)
Days where homework is given or due to be handed in can be an issue, depending on the type of homework. Tony Attwood has written about the effects of homework on children with ASC’s.
Reward charts can be useful for children who do not go to school altogether, rewarding small steps such as getting dressed for school, driving to school but not staying, spending 5 minutes in class then going home etc. A kind of de-sensitising technique. We are not at that point yet, and a reward chart might not be appropriate at the moment. It is something to keep at the forefront of my mind as the reasons become more apparent.
A social story about why school is important could be a sensible idea. However, my daughter knows that school is important. She has always liked school before and is very good academically. Her anxiety is what is causing the problem.
I am hopeful that her school will increase the support around break and lunch times and around her condition in general which will help to reduce her anxiety overall and especially before school starts.
There is a current petition (until 12.3.15) asking that School Phobia, School Refusal & Separation Anxiety in Children is recognised by all Education Departments and Schools. Please sign here if you have been affected in any way by these issues, or even if you just think it is a good cause.
This wonderful site, schoolrefusal.co.uk was set up by a mum who was having problems with school refusal. It has so many useful template letters and helpful information.
A great book by Marriana Csoti ‘School Phobia, Panic Attacks and Anxiety in Children’
A useful book about anxiety for younger children. The Panicosaurus by K I Al-Ghani.