Are you concerned because your child refuses to go to school? Do you have to struggle to get your child ready every morning? While a bit of reluctance is expected, a persistent refusal to go to school is stressful for all parents.
Some children struggle to separate from home and familiar adults right from an early age. However, when this challenging behaviour lasts well into the primary school age, parents must explore the reasons for it. Teenagers may also be unwilling to go to school, but the causes can differ from those of younger children.
Why do children refuse to go to school?
A common thread runs through the many reasons for a child’s refusal to attend school. Anxiety!
Anxiety is a normal emotion, and everyone feels anxious at some time or the other. When it blows out of proportion, anxiety interferes with a person’s ability to function in regular day to day activities.
How do you identify the causes of children’s anxiety about school?
Observe their behaviour and look for emerging patterns. Consider these:
- Does your child dislike change? Transitioning from home to school is difficult for a child who likes things to be the same.
- Is your child scared of someone—a peer, an older child, or an adult? Harsh, rigid attitudes towards homework, academic achievement, and overpowering personalities make school seem unattractive.
- Does your child have a learning disability and not enough support at school? When learning becomes a struggle, there is no motivation to go to school.
- Is your child bullied or teased at school or on the way to school?
- Have you moved around often, causing your child to change schools frequently?
- Conflicts between family and school authorities are stressful for children. They may fear retaliation by teachers or other adults at school.
- Long breaks from school, for instance, after vacations or recovery from an illness, upset a child’s routine.
- Does your child have difficulty making friends? A timid child may struggle to manage social interactions at school.
- A school atmosphere where there is extreme pressure to perform well cause a fear of failure, resulting in a reluctance to go to school.
- Does your child feel unsafe at school? Schools that don’t emphasise safe interactions between staff and children or amongst children themselves leave room for incidences of physical, mental, and sexual abuse.
Anxiety interferes with a child’s ability to concentrate and motivation to work, and the child feels socially isolated.
How do you help your child overcome a reluctance to go to school?
- Start with the basics. Maintain a regular sleep schedule so that your child is well rested in the morning.
- Arrange for play dates with children from the same class. Friendships formed during the school years nurture a child’s sense of well-being. Having a friend in class will help reduce the anxiety of leaving home.
- Use a picture schedule for young children to show them that they will return home at the end of the day. If there is any change to the routine, prepare them for the difference.
- Talk to the teacher about making your child a ‘teacher helper.’ When children have responsibilities, they feel a sense of accomplishment. Your child will look forward to school to perform his task.
- Identify the reason behind the refusal to go to school. If your child is afraid of staff or other students, take it up with the school administration.
- If your child feels unsafe for any reason, you must address it.
- Some children may need therapeutic intervention to learn to cope with anxiety. Counselling helps the student and teaches parents strategies to support their child.
- Other children may need medication to address the anxiety. Parents must weigh the emotional and academic benefits to their child while considering medication. If young children cannot develop strong foundation skills due to limited attention and anxiety, it will impact their sense of well-being. Medicines go a long way in learning the necessary coping skills.
- A child with anxiety copes better with a well-regulated routine. Consistency is key to managing their behaviour.
- No matter how frustrating your child’s behaviour is, remember that you are the adult. Be gentle and firm as you set boundaries. That means you cannot change your mind about attendance!