If you are struggling with a student who refuses to go to school, you are
not alone. Most students refuse to go to school at some point in their
academic career. Some catalysts for this kind of behaviour can be fairly
benign like not having done homework, an upcoming test or embarrassment
over acne. In some cases, however, the anxiety and fear caused by attending
school can be serious. Serious anxiety over school attendance is called
school phobia and is surprisingly common. It’s often the student’s
inability to verbalize their fears or quantify their anxiety that allows
this phobia to remain undiagnosed.
There is good reason for this; as a parent or teacher, it can be difficult
to differentiate between a case of wilfulness and something more serious.
The level of anxiety that the child displays when going to school can
be the first clue to diagnosis. If the anxiety is accompanied by symptoms
such as stomach ache, depression or loss of appetite, there may be something
going on at school that your child finds too frightening to face. Bullying
by other students or teachers may be the culprit, but don’t be surprised
if your child is too scared to articulate the reasons for their absenteeism.
When absenteeism begins to negatively affect your child’s academic
record or causes them extreme anxiety, it’s time to take action.
· Try to find the cause of your child’s anxiety. Speak to
them first and, if they are secretive, ask their teachers and classmates
to help. Once you know the cause, absenteeism becomes far easier to deal with.
· Work with your child’s teachers to find a plan of action
that eases your child back into the school environment. You can agree
on a manageable schedule to make up missed work that won’t leave
your child feeling overwhelmed. Most schools have a plan to deal with
bullying, but if they don’t, suggest ways in which the teachers
and other students can help to stop bullying.
· If the situation has been very stressful for your child, you may
find that they need to ease themselves back into a school schedule. Try
sending them for half the day and then slowly increase the amount of time
they spend at school. Spending only a couple of hours may make it a more
· Don’t allow your child to have fun during school hours when
they are at home. Get them to catch up on schoolwork instead of playing
games or watching TV. A less enjoyable home environment will encourage
them to go to school instead.
If you are unsure whether your child has a real problem at school, talk
to them first. Talk to their teachers and observe their behaviour for
signs of anxiety. School councillors and teachers are trained to recognize
unusual behaviour and can really help in these situations. Be patient
and caring when approaching the issue so that your child feels able to
verbalize their fears.