A habit that can be very very hard to break.
School refusal is also very misunderstood. It's usually lumped in with truancy and often blamed on feckless parenting by "other people" -- see the UK's latest plans to dock benefits from those whose children are not in school -- when in fact it has nothing to do with class, income or parenting style. These assumptions drive the problem underground. It's taboo. No-one talks about it, and if it lands at your door, you may feel like you're entering an alien world where all your ideas about school and education have to be tossed aside. You don't know what's going on, what could happen to your child, or to you.
After it's been identified, every parent wishes they'd had a crystal ball when they first heard the words school refusal. Wishes they'd realised what it really means. Wishes that someone had told them. But they didn't and they don't. I'm not even sure how much training teachers get in this area.
Naming the problem doesn't solve it either: every child is different, there are different causes and different solutions, and it progresses in different ways. Everyone can be lulled into a false sense of security when your child decides to give school another try and attends for days or weeks at a time. Then something happens and they are out again.
When school refusal is caused by anxiety, the anxiety may just latch onto something else. Solve one school problem and your child may simply find another one.
It doesn't just affect anxious children or those with special needs. It can affect any child. One day it might be your child. So please watch out for these warning signs and be aware and push for help if you have any concerns at all.
- Your child wakes complaining of headaches or tummy aches that may get better with a day off school. Often it is an ailment that has no symptoms, but seems to be real to the child.
- Your child often feels unwell in school and asks to go home.
- Crying or meltdowns on school mornings, even physical resistance to going to school.
- Getting up late for school, and doing less and less in the mornings. Stopping breakfast, teeth cleaning, washing, packing books, anything so that the parent will give up and let them stay home.
- Taking the day off on sports days, exam days and avoiding other school-related events.
- Not wanting to go back after holidays and weekends.
- Leaving homework at school then refusing to go in for fear of getting into trouble.
Of course most children do these things occasionally and that's why the onset of school refusal is so hard to see.
So how do you know when a tummy ache is school refusal and not just an illness?
I'm thinking that part of the answer relates to what happens when you try to sort it out. Obviously if your GP can find nothing wrong, and it gets better with a spoonful of Calpol and some boiled 7UP** then you probably don't need to worry.
But if one or more of these signs become regular and more frequent over time, then it is worth asking for help from the school, any services that work with your child, and if necessary the local education welfare officer or truancy service. You won't regret it.
Some causes of school refusal need to be tackled immediately, i.e. bullying or other inappropriate behaviour from pupils or staff. But that's a separate issue.
* This post was written by me, based on what I think I know, and is not a substitute for professional advice.
**An Irish cure for most childish ailments that I was advised to use. Recommended to me by other parents and medical professionals.
How to Tackle School Refusal : http://www.lookingforbluesky.com/2015/01/how-to-tackle-school-refusal.html
My daughter refused to go to school for five years : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/children/11078624/My-daughter-refused-to-go-to-school-for-five-years.html#disqus_thread
Emotionally based school refusal : https://www.westsussex.gov.uk/learning/west_sussex_grid_for_learning/management_info__services/inclusion_and_sen/inclusion/inclusion_of_learners_with_soc/emotionally_based_school_refus.aspx#
Facebook group for School Phobia / School Refusal and Separation Anxiety : https://www.facebook.com/groups/schoolphobiarefusal/
This is Part 2 in a series about school refusal, click on the links below to read the other posts:
Part 1: How to Tackle School Refusal
Part 3: Alternatives to School for Teenagers