56: School Anxiety and Refusal Strategies
School refusal has been dramatically increasing and this phenomenon has been worrying many parents as their kids are at risk of performing poorly in academics, dropping out, and even being socially isolated. Considering that many parents and schools are unprepared and ill equipped, this has worsened as the pandemic started.
That is why it’s important for us to fully understand the underlying causes and provide effective interventions and other refusal strategies to help not just the students but also their parents overcome it.
School refusal isn’t always about not wanting to go to school.
School refusal happens gradually. You’ll see it in how your kid behaves. It starts with anxiety or worry and we all know that most kids don’t know how to cope with their emotions which is why they are likely to have mental health issues.
Most parents think that just because their kids are doing well in school, everything’s okay. But the truth is, sometimes, it’s not entirely a good reflection of what’s really going on with your kid. And so, parents get shocked when their kids suddenly aren’t doing well in school.
When crises happen, we can't connect the dots until we look back. The sad truth is that there are many cases wherein parents are shamed for their parenting which is why I want parents to let go of their guilt and worries. We’re all doing the best we can and our best may be different from other people’s version of best.
More often than not, anxiety is a part of school refusal. In fact, even depression, PANS, PANDAS and other clinical conditions can also impede a kid's ability to go to school. That’s why we can’t simply conclude that school refusal happens because our kids simply don’t want to attend school.
Bullying and inappropriate education may also contribute to school anxiety and school refusal. There are actually many possible reasons which is why there’s a need for us to always check on our kids.
What’s holding kids back from going to school?
Digging deeper into the reason why kids refuse going to school, we’ll see that there’s something wrong. They may look perfectly normal but deep inside, they may not be feeling well.
Maybe they’re feeling dysregulated, upset or overwhelmed. This is totally understandable since kids tend to easily be overwhelmed. They don’t know how to deal with their thoughts and emotions especially during tough times.
I always hear people say that getting their kids back to school will solve the problem but that’s not really the solution. It’s important to unravel everything, address the underlying issues and not just get your kid back to school.
We also have to consider the need for a proper treatment whether it’s for an infectious disease or a clinical diagnosis or issue that may be causing our kids to hold themselves back. It’s a must for us to prioritize our health and our kids’ health in all aspects.
Thankfully, I did a lot of research and was able to successfully create a plan to get kids back to school and eventually get them to do the right thing.
If there’s a mental health problem, look for the root causes.
We keep on mentioning the root causes because they’re a vital part in addressing the many layers of the problem. Unfortunately, there’s no magic wand that’s going to make all these problems vanish in just a flick.
Focus and prioritize health, especially mental health because it is the foundation of our physical health and it affects our emotional well-being, cognitive functioning, and overall quality of life. And so, by prioritizing our mental and physical health, we’re likely to have a good well-being and a more fulfilling life.
It’s also important to know how to calm the brain. If our nervous system is stuck in a stress-activated, sympathetic dominant state, our brain’s going to be on fire. It’s going to shift into a fight, flight or freeze mode which is what triggers school anxiety and school refusal.
Personally, I have my ways to calm the brain down. As simple as doing breathing exercises goes a long way. We can also do EFT tapping. You just have to find something that is accessible, convenient and comfortable for you.
Communication is key and so, it would be best to talk to your kid. There are times when your kid may be hesitant in telling you what’s going on so you have to help them express themselves better. It is important to listen actively, be present in the conversation, and validate their feelings and perspectives. Be a safe space for them.
What I usually say to kids is to break everything down into something simple when they’re so overwhelmed. Let them take their time in being comfortable in sharing what’s happening or how they feel. We have to meet them where they're at and we have to give them help.
Don’t hide information from the school.
There’s nothing to be ashamed of especially when you’re just doing your best as a parent. When things become overwhelming or when you're not sure what to do, seeking help from others, especially from school staff and mental health professionals, can be a good option to consider.
When asking for help from your kid’s school, be as transparent as possible, particularly when you disagree on something because you need to craft a plan that's realistic and effective. You also have to trust the process and the school for a good outcome.
It also helps to get support and guidance from a mental health professional. When kids do things that really shine a light on their mental health, it's an opportunity to improve their mental health. It may be hard, but this is how to learn more skills.
In addition to seeking help from school staff and mental health professionals, talking to trusted family members, friends, or community members can likewise help. Because sometimes, just having someone to talk to and offer support can make a significant difference.
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