No, my son says when I ask if he had lunch today. No, when I asked him if he did any drawing. No, when I ask him if he’s made any friends, no, if he’s at least learned a single classmate’s name, and no if he’s even sat down all day at a desk .We were warned about this during his induction. In this self-same session, roughly 20% of the presentation was about ensuring we didn’t follow our kids into the classroom weeping. There, his incoming teachers said that shock to the system of so many new faces and activities could create a sort of logjam in their heads, whereby they couldn’t or wouldn’t process and communicate all that was going on.
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It’s called school refusal, and it’s quite common in kids starting big school. The advice is to give them time and space to adjust, which is fine, but a month in, my son still won’t tell me anything about his days.
I thought he was being bullied, but he says no to that too. Perhaps he hates school? But then, why go in every day if that’s the case? Surely after four weeks, he would have given up by now? I’m at a loss. I don’t want to push him, but I feel I’m missing out on such an important time in his life. What can I do?
According to child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, school refusal is “one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted problems parents face”. “It’s not just kids being lazy or trying to get out of school,” he explains. “For many children, the anxiety is so great they make themselves physically ill.”
Carr-Gregg says there are three main types of school refusal: those who feign illness, those who have separation anxiety, and those who have social anxiety. And it’s important to understand which category your child falls into as the solutions are very different.
So how can you tell? Carr-Gregg says it’s usually pretty obvious.
“If your child throws up every morning on the way to school or has diarrhoea or a headache, that’s usually a sign they’re faking it,” he says. “If they’re clingy and tearful when you drop them off, or they say things like ‘I’m going to miss you too much or ‘I don’t want to go, that’s separation anxiety.” And finally, if your child complains of feeling sick but gets better as soon as they walk in the door at school, that’s social anxiety.
So what can you do about it? Carr-Gregg says the most important thing is not to make a big deal. “The more attention you give it, the more power you give it,” he explains. “If your child is feigning illness, the best thing to do is ask them what’s wrong and then explain that you’ll take them to school anyway. It’s really important not to give in.”
Carr-Gregg says it can also help to talk to your child’s teacher about what’s going on and see if they can give you insights into what might be causing the problem.
If your child is anxious about separation, he recommends a gradual approach.
“Start by leaving them for five minutes, then 10 minutes, then 20 minutes,” he says. “The key is to ensure they know you’re coming back.” And finally, if your child is socially anxious, Carr-Gregg says it’s important to help them build a support network at school.
“Encourage them to make friends with one or two other kids,” he says. “And talk to their teacher about strategies they can use to feel more comfortable in the classroom.” Above all, he says, it’s important to be patient. “This is a phase, and it will pass,” he says. “In the meantime, just try to stay calm and keep the lines of communication open.”
What do you think of Gregg’s advice? Let us know in the comments below.
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