It is not unusual for a child to wake up on a Monday morning and complain about having to go to school. Most school age children when given the choice of fun (weekend) or learning (school), will choose fun. However, when this argument becomes intense, persistent, and frequent, we have a behavior that is described as school refusal. School refusal is when a child refuses to go to school, is frequently unable to stay in school for the whole day, or goes to school and leaves or needs to be taken home. These complaints could be direct, through verbalizing not wanting to go to school, or indirect such as physical complaints. The most frequent age we see this occur is between eight and thirteen years of age. However, any school age child could experience it.
When a child refuses or resists going to school, one of the first tasks we need to examine is the reason why he/she may be resistant. We need to rule out confirmable physical illness and mental health issues (i.e. depression). If those do not appear to be a reason, we can look at other areas. This would include peer group (encouraging to ditch school), drug/alcohol involvement, grades, choosing to do more fun things during the day, or worries/fears. A child may be resisting or refusing to go to school because they are afraid. The fear could derive from several areas: fear of a person (bullying for instance) , fear of leaving someone (separation anxiety), fear of situations (being around other people), or fear of an event (speaking in front of class).
Age, peer group, and history of the child are necessary information in determining motivation. Family history or events could also play a factor. If there is turmoil/conflict at home, this could impact on a child’s emotional stability. If there is a family history of anxiety, this may make the child more likely to have anxiety themselves.
Regardless of the reason, it is important to remember that the longer you wait to address these concerns, the more difficult it will be to get your child out of these thinking and behavior patterns. Whether their fears are real or imagined, there is a strong likelihood a pattern of feeling (somatic and emotional) and behaviors will solidify themselves. This pattern, the longer it goes on, the more challenging it becomes to undo. It is usually extremely important to involve school personnel in addressing school refusal concerns. They will be your biggest allies in overcoming this issue. If the school refusal persists, it is important to seek out professional help. A plan of action and working with support systems available are important steps to take.