My child won’t go to school

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 manageable proposition.

· 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.