The estimated prevalence rates of school refusal vary from 1-8 percent with about one quarter of American children refusing to go to school at one point. Refusing to go to school is almost usually a form of anxiety. Children who won't go to school are often under stress at school for bullying or peer stress, because of academics and their challenges, discord with teachers, or general anxiety and other mental health problems.
It’s important to identify and quickly work on school refusal because consequences include:
· lowered self esteem,
· trouble with peers,
· and academic difficulty
Some children who have severe school avoidance can go on later to be unsuccessful at graduating.
How does school avoidance start?
School refusal that is related to anxiety often starts with a specific trigger. Something happens in school such as a teacher embarrasses them; they are humiliated or bullied by another student, they fall in school or vomit, or are stressed in some other way. From that develops and intense desire to avoid school, which reinforces the anxiety and exacerbates the phobia.
How do students who have school phobia act?
Students who have school avoidance with school phobia will describe that they feel physically ill, physiologically overwhelmed, and that they have thoughts of something terrible happening at school, or that they somehow won’t be able to make it through. They will often avoid school at all costs, feigning illness, becoming aggressive, crying and begging their parents not to make them go. I have had school phobic children kick out the windshield of their parent’s car on the way to school while in a fight or flight mode .
The School Parent Partnership
Unfortunately research demonstrates that school staff do not really understand the school phobic child, and will often make assumptions about parenting style as being insufficient, sometimes sharing their beliefs with parents.
As is often the case, a child success at school depends on a school parent partnership, and this can be challenging when misunderstandings about children’s symptoms and behavior call schools to be unsympathetic and parents in response to be defensive.
Generally research shows school staff look poorly upon school refusal, often judging the parents and children openly at school meetings, in hallways, or in lounges, with off handed comments that demonstrate the negative bias they have.
In some states parents can be prosecuted when their children are not attending school (truancy) and sometimes these children are confused in that category. It makes sense to fight for services for your child if they are unable to attend school. If for example, a child with cancer would qualify for homebound and treatment options have been exhausted for your child, advocating for that same service under school phobia as a legitimate diagnosis makes sense.
Successful treatment of refusing to go to school can be complicated, but it starts with appropriate education of school staff about the nature of school phobia which can lead to a better and more cohesive approach to helping the child be healthy.
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Medical information obtained from our website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.