Helping Deal with Anxiety

School Anxiety/Refusal

It isn’t unusual for a students to have some anxiety at the beginning of the school year.  In fact, I spend a good chunck of my time calming down crying children that first week of school. But for some students, school causes so much anxiety that they will do anything to avoid going.  This behavior is called school refusal. 

Student's who fall in this category are students who are cronically absent, constantly ask to see the school nurse, or who cry excessively as the school day is starting.  Once any medical issue is ruled out, it is time for the school counselor to step in.   

Here is some information on school anxiety/refusal:

School Anxiety/Refusal

School refusal is a BEHAVIOR and a CHOICE!

The student thinks:  When I don’t feel well I CAN’T go to school.

I’m not going to school because I don’t feel good.
I will use my coping strategies to get to school.

Somatic Symptoms:  Stomach aches, headaches, nausea, vomiting

These symptoms most often occur during PE, Math and lunch.

What causes school anxiety/refusal?

Starting school, moving, and other stressful life events may trigger the onset of school refusal. Other reasons include the child’s fear that something will happen to a parent after he is in school, fear that she won’t do well in school, or fear of another student.

Often a symptom of a deeper problem, anxiety-based school refusal affects 2 to 5 percent of school-age children. It commonly takes place between the ages of five and six and between ten and eleven, and at times of transition, such as entering middle and high school.

Children who suffer from school refusal tend to have average or above-average intelligence. But they may develop serious educational or social problems if their fears and anxiety keep them away from school and friends for any length of time.

There are four functions of school refusal:

·        Avoidance of negative affect (somatic symptoms)

·        Escape from evaluative or social situations (social phobia, OCD, perfectionism)

·        Attention seeking behaviors (separation anxiety, gaining sympathy from family)

·        Pursuit of tangible reinforces (video games, internet, sleep, drug use)

If you allow your student to stay home:
·        Their world gets smaller and smaller.  Anxiety starts with school and then it spreads to other situations/places.

·        Your child will not learn to manage feelings of discomfort.

·        Your child will not learn to experience disappointment.

·        Your child will not learn appropriate conflict resolution.

·        You child will not learn how to appropriately communicate his/her needs.

·        As an adult they will stay home from work when they experience somatic symptoms.

·        You are teaching your child that they CANNOT manage.

·        You are sending a message to your child that they cannot handle school.

·        Your child may turn to unhealthy ways of dealing with anxiety as they get older-such as alcohol, drugs, self-harm, etc…

School Anxiety/Refusal Parent tips
Things you should NEVER say to your child when they are feeling anxious:
·         You’re not sick
·         You are making yourself sick
·         You will be fine
·         You’re going to have a great day
What you SHOULD say to your child:
·         How do we manage that feeling? (ask once)
·          I know you and I know that you can do this.  Tell me what you are going to do if you start to feel sick. (once)
·         Nothing else-Do not respond to pleas to stay home or complaints about somatic symptoms.  
Parents need to:
·         Be consistent!
·         Talk to the student the night before
·         Show that the PARENT is in charge
·         Have the child ride the bus when possible
·         Make being sick unpleasant-no tv, no attention, no sympathy

·         Let your child manipulate you
·         Show that you are upset
·         Give in!
·         Act anxious yourself-this makes the child more anxious
·         Coax or reassure-the child needs to take responsibility
·         Dote on your child when they are sick.  This reinforces the behavior
·         Talk about the teacher/school/other staff in a negative way in front of the child

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