Parent’s Guide To Treating School Refusal Symptoms

treating school refusal symptoms
If your child shows signs of school refusal, you might wish you knew someone who has walked a mile in your shoes – or maybe 10 miles.

But school refusal isn’t commonly known, so you may feel alone. And you’ll likely wish you had somewhere to turn for simple advice.

Understanding School Refusal Symptoms

Consider this guide the place for simple advice on understanding and treating school refusal symptoms.

Here, you’ll find answers, explanation, and guidance for some of the most common questions regarding school refusal.

For additional help, consult a mental health professional, who can give your child’s situation a full assessment.

Causes Of School Refusal

A number of different factors can cause school refusal. They include:

  • A death or divorce
  • A change in school or a recent move
  • An extended summer or holiday break
  • Bullies or other antagonistic peer groups
  • Anxiety related to performing well in school or participating in class
  • A comorbid disorder, such as separation anxiety disorder, depression, social anxiety disorder, or something else
  • A learning disorder such as ADHD or dyslexia

Christopher A. Kearney, a leading researcher in the field of school refusal, classifies school refusal into four main categories:

  • Avoidance of school-based stimuli that cause negative emotions, such as anxiety, fear or depression
  • Avoidance of uncomfortable school-based situations that the child perceives as threatening
  • Seeking attention from caregivers
  • Pursuing desirable activities outside of school

Symptoms Of School Refusal

School refusal symptoms can be confused with illness or dismissed as “just a phase.”

A condition such as ADHD or dyslexia will likely lead to difficulties in various areas of life, not just related to attending school.

A classic signal that the symptoms are actually evidence of school refusal is that they emerge and intensify in the morning before school, and then quickly vanish if the child is allowed to stay home.

These symptoms include:

  • Stomach aches
  • Headaches
  • Backaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Tantrums
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Reports of bullying or fears of situations at school

To gain clarity on your child’s symptoms:

  • Rule out illness by checking for a fever or loss of appetite. Consult a doctor if necessary.
  • Ask your child’s teacher how your child is performing in school and socializing with others.
  • Talk with your child about what is happening at school (or at home) to cause him or her such anxiety.

When school refusal symptoms persist, implement some diligent treatment strategies. Some children’s cases might be mild enough to handle effectively at home, and with support from the school. But, some cases might warrant the support of a mental health professional.

If you believe that the school refusal treatments are actually due to an underlying condition such as a learning disorder, you want to take the proper steps to treat the condition.  This could involve medication, special programs or enrolling your child in a private school for kids with learning disabilities.

How To Treat School Refusal Symptoms At Home

Many parents have success treating school refusal with some effective intervention tactics at home.

Start A Dialogue

Talk openly and honestly about the behaviors you’re noticing. Ask your child why he or she thinks this is happening. Ask about what happens in class, the cafeteria and the locker room.

Be supportive. These conversations will provide insight, build trust and give your child a safe space to relieve anxiety.

Establish Routines

Examine your family’s daily schedule and make adjustments so that your child’s day is structured and predictable. Be careful not to overload your child.

Enforce a strict bedtime. Getting enough sleep is an important factor in your child’s overall mental and physical health.

Prepare The Night Before

Help your child stay organized by preparing for school the night before.

Make a checklist of things your child needs to do each night, such as lay out clothes for the next day, make lunch, and pack a backpack. This will eliminate a number of activities that can add to the flurry and stress of the morning.

Remove Household Comforts

If you think your child refuses school because he or she craves the comfort of home and you, don’t provide those comforts.

If your child stays home, require him or her to study, read or perform household chores. Do not permit use of electronics, sleep, or special time with you.

Create A Family Contract

Talk with your child firmly but gently about what you expect each morning. Identify when you expect your child to be dressed and at what time your child should leave for school. Also, discuss your child’s privileges, such as time to watch TV or freedom to go out with friends.

Together, write up a contract, which states that if your child meets expectations, he or she will be rewarded with privileges.

Many kids will respond to these strategies, but some kids will continue to struggle. If symptoms continue for weeks, call a mental health professional.

How A Mental Health Professional Can Help Treat School Refusal Symptoms

A mental health professional, or therapist, will assess the full scope of your child’s situation. Considering reports and records from school, written evaluations from you and your child, as well as observations, a therapist can determine probable causes and direct effective treatments.

Your child’s therapist might use the School Refusal Assessment Scale-Revised (SRAS-R) to evaluate the situation. This scale, designed by Kearney, measures the function of a child’s school refusal and provides reliable data about his or her behaviors.

This allows a therapist to design treatment effectively. If your child is suffering from a mental health disorder, a therapist will be able to diagnose this and prescribe necessary treatment.

Therapies for school refusal vary depending on the child and the situation, but they include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Family Therapy
  • Relaxation Training
  • Behavior Management
  • Dialectic Behavioral Therapy
  • Social Skills Training

Your child’s therapist will most likely work closely with your child’s teacher(s) and school administration. It’s important that they maintain clear communication and develop a mutually supportive relationship.

It’s also important that you, as the parent, do what you can to facilitate this. The best approach to your child’s success is a team approach of the home, the school, and the therapist.

Overcoming School Refusal Symptoms & Becoming Comfortable At School Again

There is a way back through the doors of school, where your child will be happy and comfortable.

Getting there might take time, patience and a lot of effort, but if you join forces with your child’s school and mental health team, you will have built the strongest network possible to support your child.

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