Question: My ten-year-old child never wants to go to school, and often throws a fit in the morning, trying to run or hide instead of leaving the house. Why is she acting like this and what should I do?
Answer: A child refusing to attend their school is an issue many families deal with. This could stem from several factors including separation anxiety, social anxiety, depression, or generalized anxiety. These disorders can manifest into school refusal: throwing tantrums, pretending to be sick, running away from school, and otherwise engaging in avoidant behaviors. While most children may behave similarly once in a while, when school refusal becomes a habit, there may be deeper issues.
To address these issues, the child must have support both at home and at school. They should be assessed with a medical examination, including both a physical and mental analysis. Once diagnosed, there are several treatments to consider. The first option is cognitive behavioral therapy, where the child will meet with a therapist and attempt to modify their thoughts and behaviors to feel more confident in attending school. Another treatment path is systematic desensitization, in which the child adjusts their reaction to school, sometimes using exposure therapy- when the child is exposed in an increasingly intense manner to the stimulus that they try to avoid. Finally, operant behavioral techniques are often applied, where children are rewarded for successfully going to school.
Aside from these therapeutic options, it is imperative that parents are understanding yet firm and teachers and school officials are creating a welcoming and safe environment for the students. Bullying, stress, and lack of support can all cause and amplify school refusal behavior, especially in already vulnerable children. There is no quick solution for school refusal behavior, but with empathy and a variety of strategies, progress will be made.