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 its 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.
- Be supportive.
For more information about helping your child or teen manage their anxiety reach out to Armstrong Family Counseling, (913) 204.0582 or at ArmstrongFamilyCounseling.com
“Is choosing to separate the best option for me?” Choosing to separate in a marriage is never an easy decision to make. It is my hope that by reading this article you can gain some perspective on the topic of separation. A separation is different from a divorce in that you and your spouse will still legally share all parental and financial responsibilities. Also separations tend to have many different flavors. Here are the 3 most common types.
The Working Separation
In a working separation the couple separates in order to spend time improving themselves. Maybe a spouse has a mental health issue they are working on, or perhaps one spouse has an addiction they need to focus on. Working separations are best when there is an informal agreement between the two partners. This agreement will ideally have an explanation as to what issue needs to be worked on, who will take care of the kids and other responsibilities, what limits or boundaries are placed on communication (we’ll only communicate through text or email, or no communication for 2 months, etc.) and on what grounds will reconciliation take place. Working separations have the highest chance of resulting in reconciliation. If you think this is the type of separation you are looking for please contact a therapist or counselor–like myself--and draw up this contract with their input and guidance.
The Trial Separation
A trial separation is when one or more persons in the marriage express a desire to try what being single feels like. The idea is that the person is given time to clear their head. Afterwards they will then decide on whether or not to pursue reconciliation. One person generally will move out, either to another part of the house or to another place all together. Trial separations most commonly occur in families without young children.
These separations have a high rate of ending in divorce because most people leave a marriage when the pain and frustration are so high that staying seems impossible. Then, when they leave they find that being single has less pain and frustration then being married and make the jump to divorce.
The Legal Separation
This option is pursued most often when a marriage has become stale and anemic; there is little good in the marriage but also little frustration also. The couple may stay together for the sake of the children or because they both feel that becoming single is not attractive.
Whatever type of separation you are considering please understand that separation is a matter of last resort. Typically, divorce is the result of separation far, far more often than reconciliation. That being said if you separate when your pain and frustration haven’t yet caused you to give up there is a better chance of reconciliation afterward compared to waiting until you have one foot out the door.
If you or someone you know are going through a situation and you are contemplating separation or divorce, contact me today. I can help you work through your issues and come up with a plan that is best for your unique situation and relationship.