But what if the beginning of a new school year isn’t the best time of the year for you? What if you go to bed sick every night and wake up trying to think of every reason not to go to school? You are crying, kicking, and screaming all morning, but with no success…you are off to school.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) 5% of students suffer from anxiety based school refusal (ADAA, 2016). Please note that this is just referencing anxiety due to school refusal, not other forms of anxiety.
I remember early in my career (before I became a mom), I was teaching first grade and every year I had one or two students who would cry almost daily as they entered my classroom. This was always mind-boggling to me and in my young very egocentric ways I would wonder why they didn’t want to be in my class…I was so much fun?!?! They would spend the year crying as the entered my classroom and then continued to ask to go to the nurse, call their mom, etc., had frequent tardies and were often absent (even on field trip days to my astonishment).
Fast forward several years, my favorite title is now “mom”, and I am an Assistant Principal. It is a similar scene although I am called to the parking lot to help a parent get their daughter out of the car and into the building. My heart is breaking for both the parent and child. I keep asking myself what would I do if this was my daughter who was so upset about going to school? Would I be strong enough as a mom to make her go?
So my bleeding heart took over as did my problem solving skills, what could I do as a school administrator to help students and families who suffer struggle with school refusal anxiety?
Here is a bit of a checklist to go through as an educator and/or parent to help reduce school refusal behaviors and anxieties:
- Find out why! Why doesn’t the student want to go to school? Do they feel that they don’t have friends? Are they being bullied at lunch? Fear they won’t get straight A’s? Worried that something will happen to their parents while they are at school? You won’t be able to put together an effective intervention plan if you don’t know what is causing the symptoms.
- To the best of your ability don’t allow him/her to stay at home. This is very difficult to do/control. I can’t even tell you how many times I have been in families’ homes helping them with their morning routine to get their child to school. The saying is true, it takes a village; but the important thing to do is get the child to school each day, avoiding and allowing them to be at home will set back any progress you have made and make going to school the next day that much more difficult.
- Teach the child skills to manage their anxiety and stress. Social emotional learning is such an important aspect of what we as educators need to teach but so difficult to do, especially with the time constraints I know each teacher feels. We (the ROE) will be offering support with including SEL into the General Education classrooms throughout the year! One quick suggestion to get you started would be to offer breaks for students, especially when they feel a panic attack coming on. The ROE is offering two workshops on school anxiety, one is for educators on September 13 and the other is for parents on September 27.
- Provide tutoring services, a student who suffers from school refusal anxiety does not need the additional worries about their grades suffering.
- Show sensitivity and provide a safe harbor for the child at school.
- Work as a team (parents, child, teacher, administrator, school psychologist, social worker, counselor, etc.) to create a re-entry plan. This plan should include a morning routine, procedures to implement if the student is showing signs of anxiety, etc.
Although the beginning of a school year might be exhilarating to some; it may cause panic, fear, and anxiety in others. These reactions are manageable, there are interventions and supports we can put in place to help students who are suffering from school refusal anxiety, it is our job to do whatever it takes to support all children. I hope everyone is off to a successful 2017-2018 school year…I hope it is “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for you and your students!
Katie Algrim – Director of Innovative Professional Learning