SO TODAY WAS THE FIRST DAY BACK TO SCHOOL AND PREDICTABLY OUR YOUNGEST SON WAS REFUSING TO ENTERTAIN THE IDEA.
WE HAD PREPARED HIM FOR GOING BACK TO SCHOOL, SPOKEN ABOUT IT, HAD THE UNIFORM ALL READY AND IN SIGHT.
We had even decided upon a fun activity that would take place after school. Yet still, the morning came and we were met with a firm “No”.I am pleased to say that he is now in school. Unfortunately for us as a family this is not the first school refusal incident we have had from one of our children and it won’t be the last. Last night I spent over an hour with our daughter as she rocked with worry about the thought of returning to school today. She too has been prone to school refuse. Yet this morning she woke and was able to get herself up and ready for school, she was in a good state of mind and had retained the positive mindset that she eventually went to sleep with last night.
The first lesson here is just because a child doesn’t show they are anxious doesn’t mean that everything is ok. Last night my son appeared very calm, the total opposite of first thing this morning. Unlike my daughter who was clearly distressed and anxious last night, yet visibly calmer this morning.
As a parent what can you do when your child refuses to go to school?
On a personal note I believe that school is important and so always have the expectation that my children will attend school. I have told them the importance of education and the legal implications of not going to school. I am not in a position to home educate and so that just isn’t an option. Having tried home education for a school year I have massive respect for all those Home ED families. It’s definitely not an easy option.
We have found that the most important thing to do is to stay calm and acknowledge that they do not wish to go to school. The next step is to try and find out why. Usually if you can find out why you can work together to find a solution or compromise. An anxious child needs to feel they have options and that they are being listened to.
It is important that you try and work with your child and the school to provide a positive relationship built on trust. Often having the school agree to allowances first thing in the morning can be just enough to give your child the confidence to attend school. My children know that they are expected to attend school, by this I mean step through the front doors. Our children know that it’s schools responsibility to help them feel safe and secure in lessons and if they do not feel safe then there is no pressure to leave the area of the school where they feel safe.
The magic of this agreement is that right away any anxiety of having to take demands of a lesson or particular teachers have been eliminated. What we have also found is that in most situations where we make this agreement they will eventually choose to go to class and join in with the lessons. Of course there are the odd day when anxieties are just too high and this isn’t going to happen, we then have to take a step back, draw a line and try again the next day.
Sometimes as a parent it’s not easy to stay calm and positively talk about school, trying to convince your anxious child that they will be ok, that they will be able to get through the day or that things won’t be as bad as they think. However by not trying to calm our anxious children and just allowing them to be beaten by worries and anxieties all we are doing is feeding that anxiety by accepting the school refusal as part of life.
As adults we all get anxious at times, yet we have learnt that the feeling will pass and we can manage it in different ways. We need to be teaching our children to recognise these feelings and learn to overcome them. Only then can they grow in confidence and achieve things they didn’t believe that they could achieve.
Please don’t think I am saying that children should be forced into school if they are extremely anxious for I am not, I would never force any of my children to do anything they didn’t want to do especially if it was due to anxieties. All I am saying is that sometimes we have to challenge our children to face anxieties to give them a chance to overcome them. Giving children options like going into school and staying in a safe space, going into school till lunch time or even putting uniform on and standing in front of the school doors are all small steps that can be taken to try and overcome school based anxiety.
If we don’t teach our children to manage their anxieties how will they realistically be able to manage those anxieties when they enter the big wide world of work? It is so important that we acknowledge the anxieties of our children and listen to them so they feel valued but equally we must continue to help them push towards growing in confidence and overcoming their anxieties. Life can be scary especially for children on the autism spectrum and those with anxieties.