Monday, November 25, 2013

School Avoidance (Part 1 of 2)

We have had three calls to our Family Support Line in the last month related to children refusing to go to school.  It occurred to me that this might be a good topic to address in the blog.  In the twenty years that I have been working with children and families, I have noticed that school avoidance seems to rise around the holidays.  I believe there are a few reasons for the peak in school avoidance around this time of year.  The first is that the semester is finishing up and the stress increase due to projects and tests that are due.  Midterms and finals can be very stressful for students of all ages.  The holidays also tend to bring out stress in most adults and children pick up on our stress levels.  Another reason that school avoidance seems to be up this time of year is due to the school breaks.  It can be especially difficult for a student that has anxiety around school to return after they have had a break for the holidays. 
Be proactive and implement some of the following strategies to try to head off the possibility that your child will develop school avoidance over the holidays:
-          Take good care of yourself and do what you can to make the holidays as stress-free as possible.  I know, “easier said than done”.  But if you start planning now to try to decrease stress, even a bit that will be beneficial for you whole family.
-          Use the holidays as a time to practice self-care and coping skills as a family. 
-          Make sure that you remind your child several times, if not daily, during the break that they will be returning to school after the break.  A good way to do this for younger children is to have a calendar or countdown for when school will start back up.  Also reminding them that parents have to return to work can be helpful.
-          Talk about all the positives about school.  For example, friends, recess, lunch, and whatever subject your child enjoys the most.  Remind them of the adult(s) they look up to the most.
-          Remind your child of their future goals and how important school is to reaching those goals.
-          Remind your child of all the successes they have had in school to this point.
-          Help children that tend to be perfectionist or have a hard time with failure, by reminding them we all have things that we do well and we all have areas we need extra work in.  Point out some of your own strengths and weaknesses.  Let them know they do not have to be perfect or do everything well. 
-          Talk to your child about their feelings regarding school.  This is a good habit to get into not just during the holidays, but on a routine basis. 
-          Make the first day back after holidays as special as you did the first day of school.  Maybe the child can wear a new or favorite outfit to school.  Offer a reward at the end of the school day, such as going to get ice cream or letting them suggest dinner and help prepare it. 
If you believe your child is already experiencing school avoidance, be sure to catch the second part of this article in the next blog. 
For more suggestions on ways to make the holidays less stressful, reduce the chance of school avoidance, additional ways to support your family and for other great parenting tips call the Family Support Line at 1-800-CHILDREN (800-244-5373) OR 1-866-Las-Familias (866-527-3264) for Spanish speakers. You can also e-mail with questions or concerns. Check us out on Facebook at Families First Colorado.  The Family Support Line offers parenting tips, resources and information only and does not serve as legal or mental health advice. We believe you are the paramount person to decide what is best for your family. Comments provided by non-Families First individuals are not the opinion of Families First.