While most kids can't wait to show off their new wardrobe and school supplies, the thought of actually going back to school— or starting school for the first time— can cause some children to feel anxious to the point of refusing to go to school.
Anxiety related school refusal affects between 2 and 5 percent of school-age children, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
"Beginning the new school year is usually a time of excitement for most children, but it can also be a time of great stress for some children," commented board-certified psychiatrist Rashesh Dholakia, MD, MPH, a physician at the Behavioral Health Center. The Center – under the umbrella of Wayne Memorial Community Health Centers (WMCHC) — is an outpatient treatment facility that provides behavioral and mental health services to adults, adolescents and children in Pike and Wayne counties.
School refusal is a disorder characterized by a child refusing to go to school on a regular basis or having problems staying in school. Failing to attend school has short- and long-term effects on children's social, emotional and educational development.
"It is important to identify problems early and provide appropriate interventions to prevent further difficulties. The goal is swiftly returning kids back to school through a collaborative approach that includes the child, school staff, parents, and perhaps a mental health professional," Dholakia stated.
School refusal is most common in 5- and 6-year-olds beginning kindergarten and in 10- and 11-year-old children transitioning to middle school. However, school refusal can start at any age for a number of factors at any point during the school year.
Home issues that may cause a child to refuse going to school include experiencing a family change like a move, illness, divorce, or death of a loved one.
School-related issues include fear of punishment by a teacher, learning difficulties, being teased or bullied or signs of difficulty adjusting to a new school.
The symptoms that go along with school-related anxieties can be physical (tummy ache, headache, nausea, fatigue), psychological (anxiety, fear of being alone, worries) and/or behavioral (clingy, tantrums, difficulty sleeping and panic).
"Studies have shown that kids who typically refuse to go to school, though they are of average or above average intelligence, when they don't go to school they have short-term and long-term complications," Dholakia said. The short-term issues could be poor academic performance, family difficulties or problems with peer relationships; the long-term issues could result in academic underachievement, delinquency and substance abuse.
Tips to help prevent school-refusal include: establishing a back-to-school routine at least two weeks prior to the first day of classes; talking with your child about their feelings, fears and expectations; and exposing your child to small degrees of school through orientations and meet-the-teacher times.
Page 2 of 2 - Families can seek assistance from the Behavioral Health Center located in the Stourbridge Professional Complex, Route 6 and Maple Avenue in Honesdale or at the Pike Family Health Center located at the Pike County Medical Center, 750 Route 739, Lords Valley. For an appointment at either Center, call (570)253-8219.
The Behavioral Health Center is a part of WMCHC, a federally qualified health center clinically affiliated with Wayne Memorial Health System. WMCHC accepts most private insurances, medical assistance, and Medicare. For a list of services offered by WMCHC, visit wmh.org/WMCHC or call (570)253-8390.