School refusal occurs when a child makes repeated attempts to avoid school or experiences severe distress related to school. There are a variety of possible causes of school refusal in children, including depression, social problems like bullying, and academic difficulties.
However, studies of school refusal behaviors in children have shown that anxiety disorders are the leading cause of school refusal behaviors. A wide variety of anxiety disorders, from Social Anxiety Disorder to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, can make children feel anxious and uncomfortable in school. In response to this discomfort, children may attempt to stay home from school, such as by claiming illness, or to arrive late, such as by missing the bus.
Although this often does relieve their anxiety in the short term, such actions can also result in missed assignments, getting behind the class, or questions from classmates regarding absences.
In the long term, this avoidance and the negative consequences it generates increase the child’s anxiety around school, making it harder to return to school and resulting in further school refusal.
There are many different ways in which school refusal may be expressed. Some patterns to look for include:
- Complaints of illness in the morning before school, such as headache or stomachache. Rarely will the child express anxiety as the reason for avoidance of school. In fact, anxiety can cause temporary discomfort such as headaches and children identify these more easily
- Taking children to the doctor leads to no discernible condition, or the illness “resolves” once the child is allowed to stay home
- Child “drags their feet” or frequently loses items in the morning, resulting in late arrival to school
- Child frequently contacts one or both parents asking to be picked up early
- Child frequently presents at nurse’s office or counselor’s office during class time
- Child is irritable upon being picked up from school, and/or
- Child’s mood significantly worsens on Sunday night before the school week begins
At The OCD & Anxiety Center, we specialize in the treatment of anxiety disorders and their co-occurring behaviors, including School Refusal. We have the necessary training and resources to deliver evidence-based treatment to children of all ages who refuse school.
We use Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in the treatment of School Refusal. Through ERP, children and teenagers learn to face their anxiety while gradually increasing their involvement in school, be that through completing homework assignments, engaging in “practice” drop-offs, or attending partial school days to work back up to full attendance. This helps children grow in confidence, and for children and their families to gain their lives back from School Refusal.
We also ensure that the child’s parents and school are deeply involved in the treatment process. We have found that the treatment of School Refusal is most successful when parents and teachers receive training in how best to support therapy efforts at home, and at school. If you or someone you know would benefit from our specialized School Refusal treatment services, please reach out to us at (630) 522-3124 today!