Aargh, my child refuses to go to school!

No worries, we have strategies on how you can encourage junior to get past the school gates…

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For most kids, school is a fun and happy place — despite pesky assessments and homework. After all, this is where he’ll spend the best years of his life making lots of friends.

But for kids who hate or fear going to school, its very thought can trigger a physical and emotional response. Junior may start complaining that he has headaches, stomach ache, nausea and even vomit. These symptoms can get more intense right before they leave for school, which sparks a tantrum and causes them to act out. Other warning signs include:

* Not interacting with classmates or teachers.

* Preferring to stay home rather than go out or to school.

* Suffering temporary memory loss during exams.

* Threatening to harm himself.

Eugene Chong, Seeding Minds’ director and a counselling psychologist, who notes that between 1 and 5 per cent of school children fear school, says that this condition is most common in children between the ages of 10 and 18. School refusal describes a child who, because of emotional distress, refuses to go to school on a regular basis or has problems staying in school.

“Typically, issues in family, bullying, friendships, or traumas are the usual causes for school refusal.”

The term school refusal may sound harmless but it has complicated underlying causes. The Institute of Mental Health’s (IMH) Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry notes that your child’s rejection of school could be due to disorders like anxiety, depression and addiction. So, get a psychiatrist to assess junior to rule out these health issues.

Other reasons range from avoiding exams and teamwork to an irrational but intense fear of things like the school bell or germs. Chong adds, “Typically, issues in family, bullying, friendships, or traumas are the usual causes for school refusal.”

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To resolve your child’s problem, you have to get to the bottom of what’s causing his fear of school. Junior won’t need psychiatric help unless he has mental health issues like depression. Here are easy solutions to nip your kiddo’s school refusal problem in the bud:

1) Communicate with junior

With your child’s lack of experience and maturity, petty disagreements or problems in school may seem overwhelming — talking to your young ’un gives you the chance to show them how to handle the issue. Make it a point to cover other topics as well — from their favourite shows to their favourite games, no topic should be off limits.

2) Spend quality time

Don’t just spend weekends ferrying your children from one enrichment class to the next, indulge in fun activities with the entire family. Whether it’s popping by a family-friendly restaurant or snuggling up in bed to watch Netflix — chilling out with your mini-me can help you both destress. Chong asserts that it’s vital to spend quality time with your kids, especially if they are moving to a new phase in their lives. He cites junior’s first year in secondary school or if they have just joined a new school.

3) Set reasonable expectations

You are adding more stress to your offspring’s school life when you establish unrealistic goals for them. Set SMART goals with your child instead:

- Specific: Decide on the what, when, why, who and how of your child’s goals.

- Measurable: What sort of grade will he need to get to achieve his goal?

- Agreed-upon: As he’s the one who has to meet the target, work out his goals with him ― don’t set them for him.

- Realistic: Don’t expect your child’s grades to improve overnight. His confidence will be enhanced when you set him a comfortable rate to improve his marks.

- Time-based: Give him sufficient time to meet his goals.

4) Reward your child

According to guidelines from IMH’s Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, reward your child only after he shows improvement in the targeted area, whether it’s behavioural or academic. An example would be, to give him an additional 15 minutes on the computer if he meets his target score in his exam. Chong explains that if you gradually increase your child’s rewards for showing gradual improvement, “it will greatly enhance their confidence.” If your child’s self-esteem is boosted, he’s more likely to overcome his intense dislike of school.

It’s vital to spend quality time with your kids, especially if they are moving to a new phase in their lives.

5) Come up with a back-to-school plan

Involve your child’s school counsellor to create this plan for your child, which should include specific roles for you, him and the school. Chong explains that such a plan may require your child to see the counsellor twice a week to catch up on school matters. The school may also call the parents daily to update them on his progress and arrange weekly discussions with the form teacher/s, department head and counsellor.

Remember that junior’s journey to overcoming his school refusal may be a long and challenging one. “My advice is to take things slowly because that is where you and your child will learn resilience,” adds Chong.

Photos: iStock

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