It’s morning, and you’re trying to get your child off to school, but they refuse. They say they feel sick, or maybe they’re panicked and crying. Maybe they just won’t get out of bed. You’ve come to dread this time of the day just as much as it seems they do. Why does your kid hate going to school so much?
School refusal is the term for when a child refuses to go to school, and it’s much different than truancy, even though they might seem similar. While truant children are bored with school, or angry about having to go, school refusal is caused by something different: fear. Anxiety is the driver behind this behavior, which is also sometimes called school phobia.
What causes anxiety over school?
There are a variety of factors that can contribute to a child having fear about school.
Though some children have a pattern of spikes in anxiety during the time leading up to school starting again in the fall, school refusal can occur at any time of the year. Back-to-school anxiety typically stems from anxiety over the unknown and change that might also have elements of school refusal, whereas school refusal is a problem that has it’s roots in a variety of different problems and causes.
In some cases, school refusal is a symptom of a larger mental health problem. It can be difficult to determine mental health issues in children, since signs tend to be different than those shown by adults. Children refusing school may have depression, anxiety, OCD, a learning disability, a sleep disorder, or separation anxiety. Their refusal to attend school is a manifestation of this more encompassing issue.
Other times, there are specific stressors they’re encountering at school that cause them to want to avoid going.
A teacher that they dislike, a class that’s causing them exceptional difficulty or an upcoming test or presentation might lead your kid to want to stay home instead of heading to class. “Those bullied and their bullies alike complain of headaches and stomach aches, have difficulty falling asleep and fall victim to psychological symptoms, most notably depression and very significant anxiety,” states a resource from the University of Southern California, all common symptoms in school-refusing students. Testing in general causes many students distress, which can escalate if they don’t learn coping skills to deal with test anxiety. Language barriers can also be an issue for children at school that might cause them to want to avoid attending.
Kids might also have reasons for wanting to skip that don’t have much to do with school at all. In these cases, the child might want attention from their parents or other people important to them. They might also want to do something else besides school, like play or spend time with friends, or learn on their own terms. There may be things occurring during school hours that the child wants to be involved with or monitor.
In all cases, the school refusal is based on factors causing the child emotional distress. The child isn’t just bored or rebellious, and in fact might be an excellent student who recognizes the value of good attendance. However, their fear is…
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