Back To School

Hard to think about, but summer is already coming to a close. This means back to school for most of the youth that we serve. The thoughts of going back to school can create anxiety and stress in youth and sometimes their guardians as well. School refusal creates a lot of stress in a household.

A student engaging in school refusal can be identified by physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or nausea, as well as tantrums, inflexibility, separation anxiety, defiance, excessive absences, change in grades/academic functioning, or a change in attitudes and behaviors. All kids are different but often time’s school refusal is related to starting school, moving, or other stressful events. Some fears a student may have include: fear of failure in school, fear of other students, or be afraid that something will happen to their parent/loved one while they are away at school.

As difficult as it may be, try to keep the student in school as missing school tends to reinforce anxiety instead of actually relieving it. Counselors also state that it may be helpful to give the youth incentives for attending school and consequences if they do not follow through with attendance. Missing school should not mean that the youth can then stay home watch TV and play videogames. He/she will only want to stay home more often. Don’t we all want a few more vacation days in life?! Encouraging open dialogue about school and validating those concerns helps the youth to feel heard. As an adult, you can help them come up with ideas on how to deal with those concerns. Positivity can go a long ways. Share your own fun stories and things you found to be beneficial from school.

During the two to three weeks prior to school starting, get the student back in a school routine (bed times, wake up times, eating times). Adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise are natural ways to combat anxiety. Help the student to understand what their school schedule will look like before, during, and after the school day. Encourage him or her to participate in extra-curricular activities before, during, or after school. If necessary, increase communication with the child’s teacher and school to ensure the situation is known and addressed.

In order to determine what underlying issues exist, it may be necessary for the youth to see a mental health professional who can identify the reasons behind the school refusal and help determine what type of treatment will be best. In some circumstances, it may be necessary to expose the student to school in small amounts and then increase over time. School can be a frightening experience for kids, but with proper planning, those fears can be reduced to help the child feel successful.

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