School Refusal

It is the first day of school in the 8th grade and Mary does not want to go to school. She is adamantly refusing to go, saying “You cannot make me”. Prior to the first day, she was excitedly talking to her friends, planning her clothes and then, BAM, she is not going!!! She is crying, screaming and her parents do not know what to do, so they say “OK, you can stay home”. One day turns into two days, then a week, then a month. Her parents are at their wits’ end and do not know where to turn.

This is school refusal.

In 2020, it was reported 5.6 million children (9.2%) in the United States had been diagnosed with anxiety, and 2.4 million children (4.2%) are diagnosed with depression. As many as five percent of children are affected by school refusal.

Most children do not know the reasons why they don’t want to attend school. They may be worried about bullying, friend groups changing, gossip, failing grades, lack of understanding, and feeling as though they do not fit into the crowd. This is a genuine mental health issue for both parents and children alike. The children are worried and unable to attend, frustration and anxiety continue to rise unabated. They feel as though they cannot even come up with a solution. Parents worry about not providing an education for their children; they worry about truancy and that as a parent they are failing their children and themselves.

There are solutions to school refusals. The first thing to is to reach out to the school and connect with the school guidance counselor. The guidance counselor and the parents can create a plan which encourages the child to come to school. If the child is old enough, it can be beneficial to have the child involved in the plan. The child should be connected with an outside therapist or possibly the school counselor.

The child could begin back to school by coming for part of the day and gradually increasing the amount of time. This graduated return to the school is very helpful. The child can attend for a half day and then over a period of a few weeks, return to a full day. There is an educational solution, called Intermittent Homebound. The child must see a pediatrician or family physician to have the Homebound form approved. This also allows for a physical examination, which can eliminate the cause as organic. In the Homebound program the child must attend school 10 out of the 20 days required to be in the schoolhouse. This is done over a limited period of time, no more than three months. During the days the child is not in school, they are receiving school work and turning it in to an assigned Homebound teacher. Activities, such as sports, are always a welcome resource and increases the amount of social time during the transitions. This will help eliminate isolation.

Hypnosis or EMDR by a licensed practitioner is an innovative solution and has been proven to have great results. (To be covered in another blog).

School refusal is real, treatment is available and progress can be made. Your child returns to school and thrives again, with the knowledge that they are warriors and overcame their greatest fears.