Comments like “I do not want to go to school”, which go along with crying or physical symptoms and last for days or even weeks, strongly indicate the child’s stress concerning his/her adaptation to the school environment. This is a fear which is often observed in the childhood, mainly in the 1st or the 2nd grades of the primary school. It is important for the parent to know that school refusal usually lasts for a little while, especially if the parent insists on the child’s presence at school. However, if the problem remains, it has to be dealt with early in order to overcome the child’s fears.
What could you do?
- First of all, it is important that you acknowledge the problem, find out the reasons for the difficulty the child has and cooperate with the school staff in order to alleviate it.
- Listen what the child has to tell you. Talk to him/her to try to find out what bothers the child.
- Enjoy waking up. A nice morning usually inspirits the child and relieves his/her anxiety. Try to remember the mornings when he/she feels better and repeat what you do during those mornings.
- It is important for your child that you have a positive relationship with the teacher, as well as a positive attitude to the school generally. This involves asking the teacher for help. Talk to her about the child’s difficulties and explain how you want to help him/her get well, saying at the same time that her help will catalyze the process. For example, she could greet the child and accompany him/her to the class for several days.
- If your child refuses, accompany him/her to the classroom by yourself. In 3-4 days leave him/her at the entrance to school with a wish to have a nice day.
- Every time you go to school, greet the teacher and ask her how was the child at school. It is important to encourage her to mention something positive about the child. It would be also helpful, if she could involve the child into a morning activity he/she would look forward to doing. For example, into collecting something every morning or into handing out drawings.
- The child’s relations with some of his/her classmates are also very important. Find out whether your child has a friend he/she likes and is excited to see. It would be good to invite one of such children to your house one afternoon. Organize play days with the classmates he/she chooses in order to encourage their friendship.
- Ask one of the child’s classmates to go with you when you accompany him/her to school.
- Help the child overcome fear by increasing gradually the extent to which the child deals with fear. Practically, this means that, for example, for the next 2 days you take the child to the classroom and leave at once. Remember that when you are calm, even if your child feels badly, he/she will feel your confidence that everything will be OK and will feel better day by day. The more you stay with the child, the more uncomfortable you feel, and the harder your child experiences your departure. Then, leave him/her outside the classroom. If this could be performed right under the agreement between you and the child’s teacher, it would be much better. As you repeat this at least for 3-4 days, stay at the school entrance next time and do not come in at all. Remember that during this process it is useful to pay attention on the child’s mood. Namely, if he/she asks you to let him/her go alone directly, do it with pleasure! Say how proud you are every time he/she manages to make a step forward! Praise your child for every small or big attempt he/she makes.
- In case when it is urgent to take the child back home, do not permit pleasant activities he/she is generally used to doing, when he/she is not at school. It is very important that you talk to the administration and/or to the teacher, asking to phone you only in case of urgent situation (a sickness with clear symptoms, such as fever, or a bad accident which requires your presence etc.). In other cases the child shall stay at school. If the child phones you by him-/herself or with the help of the administration, talk to him/her in a calm and supportive way: “My darling, mother will come on time as soon as the bell rings. All the children are at school now, and I am very proud of you. Think about something nice and take this thought with you to the classroom”.
- Inspirit the child daily by talking about the advantages of the school.
- Finally, help the child’s self-confidence increase by discovering his/her strengths and providing him/her chances to apply them.
Generally, when you identify school refusal, it is fair to choose from both parents the one, whom you feel to be calmer and who manages better to encourage the child to attend school, to accompany the child to school. Moreover, your participation in the activities which concern school will help boost your child’s positive mindset. If not dealt with on time, school phobia may worsen the child’s school performance, his/her relations with peers, the quality of his/her work and probably lead to more stress and other problems.