Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, West Midlands
The return back to school can bring on a wave of emotions for children. For some, displaying emotion can be difficult, creating reluctant returners. While the return may bring excitement for some, this may also be a stressful time for others. The change of routine can trigger anxiety, just like an adult, however, they may take more time to adjust especially if they struggle to comprehend the idea of school.
A quote I abide by is “All reluctance is a lack of confidence”. It’s beneficial for you to put yourself in your children’s shoes. Consider a personal situation where you may display similar emotions. Using this scenario to question the emotions you would feel. Allow impactful solutions to be created.

Let’s understand the three main types of school refusal:

1. The child is in school but struggles to start the day & separate from the caregiver
2. The child is not in school due to feelings about the pandemic
3. The child has historically struggled with attendance due to a range of factors.

The four main reasons for prolonged school refusal:

There are multiple reasons why your child is refusing to go to school. The four below are the main reasons why:
• Avoiding academic aspects of school
• Avoiding the social aspects of school
• They have more attention from adults
• Avoiding school has more rewards than attending.
Understanding why they are reluctant returners is vital, as this forms the basis behind your approach. The following behaviours may be what your child is feeling, aim to understand the deeper reason for their behaviour.
• Fear
• Lack of engagement
• Doubt
• Better options
• Loss of control
• Lack of clarity
• Boredom
• Individualised/personal reasons.
Such common feelings may cause your child to be reluctant because avoiding the social situation allows them to feel calm and in control of their emotions. The impacts of Covid-19 are having major impacts on young children. Unlike previous generations, children know what life is like without having school in person. Hence the difficulty to return to school.

How can I find the best solution for reluctant returners?

You could start by identifying the feelings your children have. Question the emotions they’re feeling, which should highlight the reason behind their reluctant behaviour.  Something key to remember, when you question their emotions, ensure they’re aware that what they feel is perfectly normal. You should aim to have them question what they feel and find a solution.
If the behaviour they’re displaying is unexpected, reach out to past teachers, and try to understand if there was a change in behaviour since last year. Consider the last few months, what type of events may have triggered this anxiety?
Having anxiety is totally normal and expected, however prevalent anxiety has major impacts on your child’s life and is likely the cause of school refusal.

Let’s understand what prevalent anxiety may look like in your reluctant returners:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sweating
  • Feeling out of control
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low appetite
  • Heart beating fast
  • Overeating
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhoea
If your children display any of these symptoms, the best thing is to find ways to reduce their anxiety which can be done through activities and simply by speaking with them to find the root cause. You may want to consider the beliefs they are holding about coming back to school, which will enable you to understand the angle you need to approach the situation with.
A child may be a reluctant returner due to a lack of understanding. In less severe cases children can be motivated via methods from home. For example, self-awareness work, which makes them aware of the situation and explains their feelings. This discussion should highlight that their feelings are not necessarily the reality. On the other hand, in severe cases, bigger issues are highlighted allowing you to make the next steps, potentially requiring external help. Anxiety can’t be stopped however the aim is to build coping mechanisms which create a level of control your child has over their emotions.
One factor many parents don’t consider, do you as a parent feel anxious. Anxiety affects us all, if this is your case, take a look at our family coaching course if you want support for your family.
An important reminder, small changes of behaviour should be praised as in your child’s mind they are big obstacles. While something may not appear to be a big deal to you, for a child or somebody struggling with prevalent anxiety, small changes are huge leaps of progression.
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