School Refusal - Symptoms and Causes

School refusal is a very real problem faced by parents and children. The symptoms are varied but they all lead to one thing - your child not wanting to attend school at all.

by / Published: 8 Feb 2019

School Refusal - Symptoms and Causes
Photo: jcomp/Freepik

The years spent in school mark a crucial transitional period in a child’s life. This is when they develop their own sense of independence and adapt to new situations, meet new people and manage being separated from their parents. Students face many challenges, and while some are easy to solve, others are complicated. When these problems are left unaddressed, negative feelings like fear, depression and anxiety may build up leading to a psychological disorder commonly known as ‘school refusal’. The most common time this occurs is when entering kindergarten and changing from primary to secondary school. 

Symptoms of school refusal
If your child is exhibiting the following symptoms, he / she may be going through a school refusal phase: 
•    Abnormal behaviour like aggression, defiance, fatigue, depression, anxiety, fear, panic
•    Excessive need of reassurance / extreme clinginess
•    Throwing a tantrum or crying before going to school 
•    Attempting to run away from school or to go as late as possible 
•    Asking for permission to miss school or asking to go to the nurse’s office on a daily basis due nausea, stomach cramps or headaches. These physical symptoms disappear once they are allowed to go home. 

Causes of school refusal 
•    Academic difficulties: test anxiety, failing grades 
•    Social difficulties: bullying, conflict with friends / classmates, public speaking, isolation
•    Conflict with teachers
•    Separation anxiety: a fear that something may happen to them or their parents if they are separated 
•    Traumatic experiences: illness or death in the family, divorce
•    Benefits of staying home: play video games, watch TV, sleep, spend time with family

What can parents do to ease school refusal?
There is never a clear-cut solution and in cases of school refusal, patience and empathy play a big role. It could be just a phase or the root of a greater problem. 

Gradual reintroduction and reintegration to school: Start by letting your child attend at lunchtime then to their favourite class a few days later. A gradual and persistent increase in attendance will make your child realise there’s nothing to be afraid of or worried about when attending classes. 

Informal meetings with teachers: Speaking with teachers can help solve any misunderstanding, open a line of communication and ensure that you as a parent are kept up-to-date on your child’s progress 

Honest conversation: Try your best to understand why your child is refusing to go to school. Talk to them and find out why they are so anxious / fearful / worried and find the best way to help them overcome their problems.

This article has been republished with permission from Hello Doktor