“I can’t get my child to go to school – please help! He seems genuinely fearful”.

This is something that I am hearing more and more from parents these days and I guess it’s not surprising at the moment is it – with all that’s going on with the pandemic and lockdown!

We would always think that the term “school refusal” was more linked to children who were playing truant – giving us a picture of children and teens hanging out in the park or hiding in their bedrooms playing games on their console. So we have to remember now that “school refusal “ doesn’t mean “ playing hooky” any more  – it means the child has a severe phobia about either going to school, being at school, or participating in certain aspects of school life.

Seeing a pattern emerging

I’m sure each and every one of us have resisted going to school on the odd occasion – I know I did – especially when it was PE day! However, school refusal is a pattern of behaviour that can end up being a real problem for both the child, the parents and indeed the rest of the family.

If your child is showing signs of not wanting to go to school or go back to school once we are back to “normality” (whatever that may be!) look out for the follow signs:

  • Does the child show signs of anxiety the minute he wakes up on a school day, but not at the weekend?
  • How strongly does your child resist going to school?
  • Is your child often distressed by the time he gets to school?
  • Does your child go to school but is nearly always late because he is resisting?
  • Does your child feign sickness to stay off school?
  • Is your child’s resistance to go to school affecting the day- to- day family life?
  • Has the resistance been going on for some time?
  • Does your child constantly ask to see the school nurse?
  • Does your child constantly text home?

Very often, children who are struggling with school refusal, will begin to say they have a headache or tummy ache. Anxiety does show itself in different ways, both physical and mental, so these symptoms could be very real to them. The first thing to do is obviously to rule out any physical (medical) problems, take them to the GP to get them checked out.

Occasionally, when a child is being “school phobic”, it is nothing more than a flash in the pan – and it can be easily put right. Perhaps the child has been off sick with something and is just feeling anxious about returning to school, he may be worried about the work he has missed. These little problems can be put right fairly quickly by explaining to the child that the teacher KNOWS he’s been sick and will need a bit of time to catch up – communication is key here! But the most important thing is to get the child back to school as quickly as possibly and not prolong the agony!

But what could be causing my child to be so anxious?

There may be various reasons he is feeling anxious and refusing to go to school. These are some of the more common ones:

  • Bullying
  • Separation anxiety
  • Learning difficulties
  • Scared of speaking in front of class
  • General anxiety

Some children may tell you straight away what the problem is, whilst others may not even know themselves. Obviously if the child tells you she is being bullied at school, then steps can be taken to stop this happening and to put your child’s mind at rest. However, when the child is suffering from separation anxiety or general anxiety, she probably won’t be able to put into words how she feels. If you feel that your child is struggling with anxiety – then some therapy to teach her how to manage her anxious feelings would be beneficial.

Recently I had a child who was becoming more and more anxious about doing presentations with her peers at school and even on zoom during lockdown. This is quite common because if a child likes to get things done correctly, and she has to depend on others when working in a team, it can cause an awful lot of stress and anxious feelings.

Another mum said to me;


“I think you better start working with Jemilia now, Elaine because I know that at the end of lockdown, there will be no way she will go back to school”

It’s very hard for the parents, especially if they are working and need to get the children to school on time before they even go to work themselves. School refusal or school phobia can make the whole family stressed – the siblings get upset and mum and dad are obviously worried about the child but also about work, and the rest of the family! Very difficult for everyone!

If therapy for general anxiety doesn’t help, then the child will need to be referred to a psychiatrist for an assessment, the child will more than likely be diagnosed with general or separation anxiety, due to underlying school refusal. Then the teachers at school can put some strategies in place to help the child – perhaps meeting the child and parent at the gate and taking him into school and ensuring there is somewhere where he can go and sit if he becomes overwhelmed in class.

Struggles in the morning

Many of the mum’s and dad’s I speak to with regard to their school phobic child will say that “morning’s can be absolute hell”, like a battle….huge tantrums…screaming and crying and pleading with mum and dad not to send him to school! Some parents have told me that they just give up and say “Fine, stay at home!” because it becomes so exhausting. The problem then is that the next time it happens the child knows you will probably give in!  So DO try and get your child school at all costs!

The longer a child stays away from school – the harder it will be to get them back!

If YOU need help or advice with a school phobic child or teen do contact me at: www.focus-hypnotherapy.co.uk

I will ascertain if the problem is serious enough to require a referral to CAMHS, and can teach your child how to manage his anxiety and to become a little more resilient.

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