This can be a very difficult problem which disrupts everyone’s ability to have a schedule in the mornings! It causes tension for the child, the teacher, and the person who is trying to shepherd them into school. Parents can end up disagreeing about the best method to deal with the refusals so there can be upset at home too.
Basically a child refusing to go to school can arise from three types of situation:
- They have always had trouble separating from you.
This often fluctuates but it would have been evident during the kinder years. This is most likely to be due to an anxiety problem for the child. Unlike the prevalent assumptions from psychoanalytic theory (very much around in the 1950’s and 1960’s) it may well be because the child experiences a lot of anxiety in various situations and so they identify their main carer as the person who ‘fixes everything” for them. If we were 6 years old and many things made us anxious, we wouldn’t want to be away from the person who usually made it better, either!
- There has been an event which has triggered the behaviour.
If a child suddenly starts to show apprehension about school when they were previously ok – the first thing we look for is a likely trigger. Conflict or misunderstanding with peers is one possibility – although more common in our practice is a family separation or an episode of high conflict ore even family violence. When these types of experiences occur the child no longer feels that their world is safe and so they cling on to the person that they know the best!
- The child has an emotional issue building up which they cannot cope with.
This is most often seen in teenagers. High School is a more complex environment where students feel they have to “appear ok” to their peers. If they are starting to feel depressed or out of place they may refuse to go into the environment where they feel the most exposed to scrutiny and criticism.
Alternatively, a common pattern amongst teenagers is that social confidence has always been an issue; and that recent developments have made ‘the bottom drop out’ of their social scene. Especially with young people who have tended to try and cope by avoiding tricky situations, this can quickly turn into refusal behaviours. The child will appear very upset and so it can be unclear to the parents exactly what is going on.
A complex mixture!
Refusal behaviours can be quite strong and can involve running off or getting out of the car. This is very upsetting for parents to deal with – they often say that they feel wrong if they are firm and make the child stay at school – and wrong if they just allow them to stay at home.
Help is at hand – practices such as our see children with these issues many times in each year.