Each year, approximately 2–5% of children refuse to come to school due to anxiety or depression. Previously referred to as school phobia, school refusal includes kindergarten students with relatively mild separation anxiety and more severe cases where a student misses weeks or months of school because of debilitating anxiety or depression. Because of the serious long-term social and educational consequences associated with missing school, the problem needs to be addressed promptly and aggressively with a team approach that includes teachers, parents, administrators, support staff, and, in some cases, community agencies and physicians.
Common Warning Signs
It is critical that both parents and educators learn to recognize common warning signs of school refusal and respond quickly.
• Frequent unexcused absences or tardiness
• Absences on significant days (tests, speeches, physical education class)
• Frequent requests to go to the nurse’s office despite no apparent signs of illness
• Frequent requests to call home or go home during the day
• Major family event/trauma, sleep difficulties, difficulty concentrating, depressed mood, or irritability
• Difficulty or resistance to getting out of bed in the morning to go to school despite no apparent signs of illness
Source: Helping Children at Home and School III: Handouts for Families and Educators (NASP, 2010)
Anxiety Disorder Association of America, Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents, school refusal or avoidance: http://www.adaa.org/GettingHelp/FocusOn/children&adolescents/sra.asp
Getting Your Child to Say “Yes” to School by C.A. Kearney