School refusal is becoming and evermore common concern for parents of children and teens.? School anxiety effects 25% of school aged children, with 2-5% refusing to attend school altogether.? With it?s short- and long-term consequences being particularly concerning, parents often feel unsure about how to address the problem.
For our purposes, school refusal should be considered separate from general truancy, due to the presence of emotional distress (specifically around attending school) and an absence of antisocial behaviors.? School refusal is a psychosocial problem, meaning it can be considered the result of both psychological and environmental issues.? This may manifest as complaints of physical symptoms shortly before it is time to leave for school or asking to the nurse, but once allowed to stay home, the symptoms quickly disappear.? Common physical symptoms include headaches, stomachaches, nausea, or diarrhea with behavioral symptoms manifesting in tantrums, inflexibility, separation anxiety, avoidance, or defiance.
The emotional distress that is frequently associated with school refusal often manifests as fear or anxiety, with about 50% considered to have anxiety disorders. However, while it is often characterized as anxiety driven avoidance of school and school-based activities, there seems to be no absolute-uniformity in the development of these behaviors. ?Depression has also been shown to be associated with poor school attendance. ?And although mood-related issues are often centered around school or school related activities, that is not always necessarily the case.? For example, the presence of depression often manifests in symptoms that may result in poor attendance yet not be directly related to school, such as general lethargy and/or loss of interest.
The question then becomes, what can be done to help combat school refusal problems?? Most of the research done on school refusal interventions has centered around Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), behavioral interventions, and psychopharmacological interventions. A 2016 study that examined the effects of combined intervention of CBT and fluoxetine (Prozac) showed significant improvement in school attendance and mood concerns; with the improvements showing stability at 6 and 12 months. Behavioral interventions often draw upon principles of operant conditioning, focusing on how school refusal has become reinforced; either positively or negatively.? Graded or In Vivo exposure both have a long history of use in anxiety management and can be implemented to help re-acclimate the child to being in school.? Parents can also help support consistent attendance by emphasizing the positive aspects of school, helping to develop a support system within the school, meet regularly with teachers/counselors, encourage distractions such as hobbies and interests, and talking with your child about their feelings/fears about school.
4 Ways to Help Encourage Your Children to Attend School
Although it can be scary and troubling when your son or daughter starts refusing to go to school, it?s important to remember there are things you can do to help.?
- Don?t panic!? It?s tempting to interpret refusal as disrespect, rather fear or distress.? Keep your cool.
- Intervene early, as it will improve outcomes.
- Utilize outside support; spouse, teachers, counselors, therapists, etc.? You don?t have to do it on your own.?(816) 448-1663
- Be supportive.
I’ve had the privilege of working with many different types of people-addicts, veterans, couples, singles and even a few kids. Although they each had individual issues, they each grappled, in some way, with loneliness.
At it’s core, loneliness is about a lack of connection.? That connection could have been broken by the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship.?? Another type of loneliness can occur when a person makes a whole change of environment. ?Perhaps you moved to a new state for a job or fresh start. ?Making new friends can take time and that might lead to some lonely days. Loneliness can be weakened or strengthened depending on one’s perspective.?Let’s focus on three types of loneliness and take a look at strategies to overcome these types of loneliness.
Loneliness in relationships:
Most of my work is with couples.? Couples can lead a lonely existence in a relationship when they don?t feel listened to.? Being lonely in a relationship seems odd because we?re with somebody.? We share space with that person.? But if key ingredients are missing then the feelings of loneliness can and most likely will occur.?? Communication is a main “relationship” ingredient and if BOTH sides of the couple aren?t willing to work on this skills, that loneliness of not being heard and listened to can lead a spouse or significant other to another person or the end of the relationship.
Typically after an initial session, I email all my couples worksheets on reflective listening skills and creating fair fighting rules in handling disagreements.? Bad listening is a learned behavior that perhaps we learned from our parents.? We can learn new behaviors to improve our listening abilities.? Having fair fighting rules, if you use them, can move a couple from an adversarial relationship (Me, you, win, lose) to learning to fight the problem together and not against each other.? These are building blocks in becoming less lonely in a relationship and more connected.
Loneliness in singleness:
Are you single?? Do you struggle with loneliness?? Maybe not every day, but sometimes?? I can relate.? I didn?t get married until I was 41 years old.? I spent most of my young adult life in single groups and dating sites on the internet hoping to find that one connection that would cure my feeling lonely.? When I was 30, I watched a lot of friends get married.? ?I kept asking God when was it going to be my turn to start a family.? I wasn?t a hunk, but I’ve always been a nice guy.? “Nice guys finish last.“? I felt like that and my loneliness led me to have some incredible pity parties. ?Me, myself and I showed up and all three of us never made the party better.? It wasn?t until I started working on myself and focusing on personal growth areas that I began to change and that brought about a different perspective shift.
My focus took a change to where it wasn?t all about me.? My identity wasn?t rooted in desperation to be with someone any more.? I found my security as a single person was rooted in my faith and having healthy friendships.? I could be independent and happy and still be single.? One day I was listening to a guest speaker at my church and he had experienced incredible loss in his life.? He had lost his whole family in a massive flash flooding accident.? He was the only one that survived.? Google: Robert Rogers family and learned how he coped.? He had appeared on many of the morning talk shows and people asked him how he could go on and survive such a tragic event.?? He said it was the peace of God that was getting him through it and quoted this verse that changed my life:
Philippians 4:6-7: ?Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.? And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Right then the light bulb turned on in my brain.? I wanted that peace in my love life.? So, at 38 years old, this scripture set me on a new path. ??I trusted all of my hopes, my dreams and my expectations of being with someone over to God’s care.? I had to be at peace whether I married someday or never dated again.? What about you?? If you?re single, how have you coped with feeling lonely in your singleness?? Moping about it and having endless pity parties won?t help.? Remember, if you do nothing, nothing changes.? Focus on others.? Volunteer at your church or a community group.? Find social groups that align to your interests and hobbies so you can meet other people.?? If you need more ideas, reach out to me.? I can help because I?ve been there. ?I would love to help you take the first few steps of finding happiness in being single.
Loneliness in children:
One little documentary was released this summer that captivated the nation if not the world.? ?Won?t You Be My Neighbor? is about Fred Rogers and his passion for making connections.? He connected with kids like almost nobody else.? He showed them that no matter who they were, they had value.? They mattered, and they are loved.?? He also listened to the children he interacted with. ?He was genuinely interested in what they had to say.? That told them that they had a voice.?? Most of us have seen Mr. Rogers Neighborhood on PBS when we were younger.? The message of Mr. Rogers needs to be repeated over and over.? Because many of today?s kids feel like they don?t have a voice?except on social media and sometimes that?s a scary place to be.? Research continues to show that kids and teens that are constantly on social media and not interacting in person are more prone to loneliness and self esteem issues.
The ills of society have left our kids feeling lonely.? Divorce has caused kids pain and hurt and even damaged their thoughts. Often, their hopes are drowned out by the roar of their parent?s anger. Some children become pawns in a game of power play that parents create to get their kids to side with them.
What can we do about this growing epidemic?? Here are a couple of suggestions.
- Interact with your children. Make time to take them on parent-child dates.? Trips in the car are valuable for conversation. ?Listen to them. ?Get to know you kids interests, hopes and fears.? Find out who their friends are and get to know their parents.? Have fun with your kids and let them know it?s ok to have feelings, good and bad.
- Be consistent in your own behavior.??Follow through with what you say you will do.? Model appropriate behavior around your children.? Your kids are watching you and they look to you for moral, emotional, structure, and spiritual guidance.? If you?re not providing these, the child that gets older can become more susceptible to listening to those voices and examples that do not have their best interests in mind.
Lastly if a child is lonely, we have an incredible opportunity to help them form healthy connections? Do they have someone they can talk to and spend time with like a teacher, friend, relative, mentor or parent? ?We all need healthy connections and children are not different.?? This article has just scratched the surface to what some face.? Counselors at Armstrong Family Counseling have a wealth of experience to help adults and children cope with loneliness.