School Anxiety & Refusal
Every parent has experienced a morning when their child hides under the covers and begs to stay off school. As an isolated incident, this is nothing to worry about. But if you find the battles are becoming more regular – with your child expressing anxiety about the day ahead, claiming to feel sick or even point-blank refusing to attend – there could be an underlying problem that you should address.
Why is my child anxious about school?
There are many reasons why a child might be reluctant to go to school. They could feel unsettled in a noisy classroom or playground, or be paired up with another child who makes them uneasy. They could be having problems making friends, being bullied, failing to click with their teacher or being ‘dared’ to do naughty things they’re not comfortable with, in order to fit in with their peer group. Sometimes, children with learning difficulties behave badly rather than attempt work that they struggle with.
If your child outright refuses to leave the house, there could be a deeper issue that isn’t directly connected to the school itself. Their behaviour might be the result of a major life-change, like a family illness, a divorce, a bereavement or another family member suffering from mental health issues. The result of these experiences can leave children feeling that they musn’t go to school, because bad things could happen at home while they’re away.
Whatever the reason for your child’s school anxiety, it’s important to have a plan in place to deal with it. Most importantly, don’t be tempted to give in and let them stay at home. This may seem a short-term fix, but it will confirm your child’s suspicions that school is a place to be feared and avoided – and makes it more likely that they’ll repeat the same behaviour. Here are some better tactics to address the issue.
What can I do to help my child?
It’s important to address your child’s school anxiety as soon as possible, as this will stop it from growing deeper and harder to solve. In the first instance, try finding a quiet moment to talk to your child, asking them what’s making them anxious about school and paying close attention to their response.
Some younger children may find it hard to voice their feelings, and in this case, you may find it helps to introduce a ‘worry box’. Encourage them to write down concerns on a piece of paper, slip it into the box – then let those worries go. Remind them that everybody struggles at times, and that they don’t need to be afraid of failure or of disappointing you. Try to make their evenings and weekends enjoyable, planning activities that will bring them out of themselves.
It may take time, but with a little patience, your child should open up and share their concerns. If the problem is related to school – as opposed to a symptom of issues at home – don’t hesitate to get in touch with their form teacher, so you can arrange a meeting to discuss what can be done. You may find that many problems can be easily solved, for example, by changing the classroom seating plan so your child isn’t sat next to a disruptive classmate.
Modern schools will have wide experience in dealing with most issues, and should be able to make suggestions, whether that’s an older ‘buddy’ to make your child feel safe and secure, or keeping a home/school book so you can keep teachers updated between meetings (and vice-versa). If you don’t feel that your concerns are being adequately dealt with by a form teacher, remember that you have the right to meet with the head teacher – or if necessary, you can even write to the school governors, the Local Education Authority (LEA) or Academy Trust.
If these tactics don’t succeed, don’t hesitate to contact your local GP and ask for advice. They can refer you to all sorts of groups who specialise in this area – many of whom you’ll find listed on the TIC+ website.
TIC+ offers a Parent Support & Advice Line. If your child lives in Gloucestershire and is between the ages of 0 and 25 and you, as a parent or carer, would like support, please get in touch. To make it easier to reach out for help we offer a choice of ways to contact us on Freephone 0800 6525675 or web-chat. Whichever option you choose, there is no need to make an appointment, drop-in anytime during our open hours.
Alternatively, if you would like to arrange counselling for a young person who lives in Gloucestershire and is aged 9-21, they can get support from our TIC+ counsellors. All they, or someone they trust, needs to do is call us on 01594 372777 or text us on 07520 634063 to give us some details so we can arrange an appointment.
If you need to speak to someone urgently, call NHS 111 (on 111) or the Samaritans on 116 123. There’s always someone there to help, and any conversations you have with them are confidential.
For more advice check out our SUPPORT RESOURCES page!