How to help you child or teen if they are refusing school.
Is your child or teenager so anxious about school they refuse to go?
Are they having trouble getting out of bed in the morning and leaving the house on time?
Is your child obsessed over getting into the “right” college?
Does he or she tell you often that they “hate school” and/or feel suicidal because of school related stress?
Is he or she hyper focused on getting straight “A’s” even though you have reassured them over and over again that they do not need to be perfect?
If you're a parent and can relate to one or more of the above situations, you are definitely not alone! As a therapist with over twenty years of experience counseling children and teens, I have noticed an alarming trend in my practice – more and more parents are calling me worried to death because their child or teen is too anxious or depressed to go to school. In most cases it started slowly – their child had a bad day or said they were “sick” so they were allowed to stay home. Increasingly it got worse, with their child developing panic attacks or suicidal feelings around having to go to class.
The following statistics support what I am seeing on the front lines in my therapy practice:
- Approximately 1 to 5 percent of all school-aged children experience school refusal.
- More than ¼ of all youth will engage in some degree of school refusal during their school years, ranging from complaints and threats to avoid school, to missing school for months or even years at a time.
- Boys and girls are equally affected.
Parenting has become even more of a complex juggling act in recent years, and our children are dealing with issues even more stressful than those we had growing up. On the one hand, you have compassion for your child or teen dealing with hormone changes, school and social pressures, but on the other, it can cause tremendous anxiety and stress for parents when their children and teens refuse to go to school. This can cause arguing and conflict out of worry, even though you love and support your child at heart.
What are the possible causes? There are several complex reasons your child may be refusing school. They include:
- economic distress
- family issues, stress or loss
- technology obsession, social media (such feeling compelled to repeatedly check Facebook pages where college acceptances are posted, whether they want to or not)
- extraordinary pressure on kids to excel from family, teachers, society or a combination.
- overloading themselves with advanced-placement classes and extracurricular activities,
- our ultracompetitive college bound culture that has increasingly limited resources for funding.
- fear about the future, getting into college and finding a job
What is the best treatment?
Many parents are afraid to seek therapy for school phobia because they are afraid it will hurt their child’s chances of getting into college or getting a job, but this is not true! In fact, the longer you wait to address the school phobia, the worse it will become, and can even result in agoraphobia - a fear of leaving the house at all.
The best treatment for school phobia is returning to school as soon as possible with therapeutic support called Applied Behavior Analysis or exposure therapy. Additionally, physicians, parents and counselors should avoid writing excuses for children to stay out of school unless a medical condition makes it necessary for them to stay home. The sooner your child faces the fear with strong support, the better.
How Does Behavior Modification Help School Refusal in Children and Teens?
Behavior modification is successfully used to treat a variety of distressing teen problems, including aggression, acting out, and disrespectful attitude, and school phobia. Whether your child is struggling with mental health issues, social anxiety or making the right choices, our inhome behavior specialists can help your family create the positive changes you are desperately seeking in your child – all in the privacy of your own home.
Our coaches will help you learn that using positive reinforcers like praise, encouragement, or being given a privilege (such as getting to use the car, being allowed to have an extended curfew, or not having to do a certain chore) can do wonders in building courage in kids to face the stresses of school. Negative reinforcers such as ignoring yelling, screaming, threats or depressing comments can also do a great deal to stop negative thinking and school avoidance.
With in-home behavior coaching, your child plays an active role in their own life coaching, instead of parents or other adults dictating the structure of rewards and behavior changes. This method also does not label your child a “problem” like traditional counseling approaches. It is presented as a form or tutoring or “life coaching” which eliminates the need say they are in “therapy”.
We also use a team approach, including your child’s physician, school staff, and most important, YOU, to provide a strong system of support for your child as she learns to face her fears.
For some families, getting out of the house to attend sessions is extremely difficult. In that case, the help of an in-home ABA therapist can be a real life-saver, an additional plus to using this approach. In fact, a behavior coach can help you and your teen create and follow a written contract that clearly states the terms of the reward system. Most importantly, our ABA therapist will support and guide you as parents to stay on track with the plan for your child to face the fear of going to school and not back down.
If your child or teen is refusing to go to school, please don’t give up. Our coaches can come to your home and help him face his fears, rapidly, and without conflict between you. It’s completely private and confidential. If you would like a free 15 minute phone consult to discuss your child’s specific situation and how we can help, just call us at 904-737-3232 or fill out a confidential appointment request form below. We will be in touch with you TODAY.