Refusal to leave home is more common when starting nursery or high school, or going to boarding school.
January is back with us and the children are going to back school.
For some, it is the first time they have been away from home while others are experiencing a change in learning environment and going to boarding facilities. Although it is a period of excitement for most children, for others, it is a time of great anxiety and unhappiness.
School refusal is a well-known psychological condition and though it can happen at any age, it is more common at times of change such as starting nursery school or starting high school or even going to boarding school.
These children often express a desire to stay at home with their parents and sometimes develop sudden ailments in the morning such as tummy aches or headaches just to justify their reluctance to go to school. It tends to occur more often in only children and last borns.
Why do some children behave this way and not others?
Separation anxiety (being afraid to be away from parents): This tends to be more common in children brought up exclusively by the parents (with no nanny or other family members).
Fear of losing a parent: In some cases, the child may think something bad will happen to the parent if they leave them alone. This tends to happen in children being brought up amidst marital conflict or if one of the parents has recently left due to separation, divorce or death (the child fears that the remaining parent might leave or die while the child is at school).
Attention-seeking behaviour: Some children will go to great lengths to get attention from their parents. When they realise that refusing to go to school makes their parents focus on them, they will continue to rebel against going to school just to get the attention.
Problems at school: These include being bullied or having difficulties making friends or not understanding where things are (feeling lost at school). In some cases, the child may feel the teacher is picking on them or not treating them appropriately.
Children with learning problems such as dyslexia may also try and avoid school as they tend to feel inadequate and unable to cope with the school work.
Parental issues: Parents who worry and fuss a lot about a child’s refusal to go to school tend to worsen the problem. (As earlier explained, the child realises that their behaviour is getting them attention and will persist with it). Parents who are unreliable when picking and dropping their children can contribute to the child refusing school.
For example, if a child is constantly being picked late after school (when all the rest of the children have gone home), the child may feel that they have been forgotten.
Change of school location: A child who lives with the grandparents in the rural areas but is suddenly brought to urban centres to live with his/her parents in order to attend school (or vice versa) may feel out of place and find it challenging to deal with the new environment.
Younger sibling: The child may become jealous of a younger brother or sister at home. They may think that their mother/father is doing all sorts of fun things with the younger child while s/he is at school.
How do you deal with it?
Talk with your child: Find out what’s bothering your child and try and get solutions to their problems. While doing this, make sure he/she understands that they must go back to school and the talk must be geared to finding out how to make their stay in school more pleasant.
Try not to lecture the child or get involved in lengthy discussions and debates about the importance of going to school. Younger children cannot comprehend such discussions and older children may ‘shut down’ once you begin to lecture.
Look for clues that the physical ailments are fake: If the child only gets headaches or tummy aches in the mornings during school days but not on weekends, they are likely to faking them. Watch how long the headache or tummy ache lasts once you decide that you are not taking them to school that day.
Monitor if he complains about this symptoms when he is playing or distracted in any way. Check to see if the tummy ache disappears once his favourite food/treat is on the table.
Rule out any physical/medical issues: If your child is constantly complaining about physical symptoms, such as tummy or headaches, and you are still unsure whether or not they are faking it, have him/her checked by a doctor.
Meet the teacher: Have a meeting with the teacher to find out if something unusual is happening in school (such as bullying). Find out from them if your child gets along with other children or if he/she can freely interact with the rest of the class. Ensure you keep an open mind. Don’t assume the teacher or the school has done something wrong.
Make the home environment unappealing: If your child does not go to school, make sure that they do not spend the day playing, watching television or video games as this only reinforces the idea that school is boring and home is fun.
In addition, do not have them spend the day in bed (unless they are genuinely sick and it is advised by their doctor). If the child is at home, he/she must use that time constructively and study as though they were in school.
Do not give the child extra attention: Do not fuss and fret over the child once they begin to give excuses and throw tantrums in order not go to school in the morning. Carry out your tasks as though their negative behaviour is of little consequence. If there are other children who need to go to school, help them prepare. Let the child understand that their negative behaviour will not get them any extra attention.
Work as a team: Some children are particularly distressed when leaving their mothers. In such cases, the father should take the child to school.
In some cases, if the child goes to the same school as your neighbour’s children, ask your neighbour to drop her off for you. When the child sees that her friends are also going to school, it may make it easier for her to come to terms with the fact that she too needs to go.
Going to school allows for a child to mature intellectually, socially and emotionally. For this reason, it is important that you persist in your endeavour to get your child to be more comfortable and happy in the school environment.
This article was first published in the Business Daily.