If your child is struggling to attend school due to anxiety there are things you can do to make the situation easier.
Firstly, did your child feel anxious before the Covid-19 pandemic or before lockdown happened? It is likely that previously anxious children will be impacted most. These children may have become less anxious during lockdown with it increasing again. It is normal as their sense of day to day certainty disappears. Remember that from your perspective things may feel certain but your child may not have the same sense of security.
Your subconscious mind always wants you to feel safe.
Your child will subconsciously use strategies to increase safety and certainty helps this. This means that by avoiding situations that are uncertain anxiety decreases. However, this is a short term solution and over time this way of being will increase avoidance tactics to decrease anxiety as a way to feel in control.
Reasons for anxiety can include:
- Loss E.g. such as a friend moving away
- Grief E.g. death of a pet or a family member
- Change E.g. Moving home or parents splitting
- Stressors E.g. Bullying or pressures of exams
- Genes E.g. Other anxious family member
Those children who have become newly anxious are more likely to have been impacted by issues relating to the pandemic. This could be fear of the virus itself; health anxiety. Six months is also long enough to become used to a new change in routine. Gradual exposure back to the ‘normal’ routine is a good method to build confidence in your child in these cases.
There are ways to help your child to feel in control and increase confidence.
Children tend to feel more secure when they know they are safe and what is going to happen. Parents (and carers) can support them to build a feeling of security even when they are not together.
Effects of the anxiety include:
- angry outbursts
- nausea/ vomiting
- checking your whereabouts
- refusal to leave home or a vehicle
Here are several ways to support your anxious school refusing child.
- Ensure there is a clear routine in place for their day and that they know what that is.
- Be very clear about what is going to happen in a factual way. “We are going to walk to school together, I will say goodbye at the school door and wave at the window. I will be there at 3.30pm to collect you.” Stick to your word and go out of your way to make this happen so they gain trust.
- Commit 10 to 15 minutes each day for them to have a worry time. They can write, draw or talk to you about their worries. Give them space and time to talk while you to listen to them. Listen without judgement and be supportive. Over time this will help to develop a trust between you and your child and a space for them to share if other things are going on without fear of repercussions. Use open questioning when necessary, rather than closed and allow the chid the space to make decisions or come up with solutions. This helps with confidence.
- Arrange a meeting with the pastoral leader, their teacher and your child and together work out what steps can be done to help and support your child. This may include separate out of class support or reduced attendance. Ensure your child know the meeting is going to happen. Ask your child, in advance, how they would like school to be for them, what they would like within reason.
- Do not lie to get your child to attend school. This will create a lack of trust and a lack of understanding about what is going to happen, resulting in further anxiety.
- Remove your focus away from the issue and keep situations as normal as possible. Focus your relationship on conversations and time on other things that your child enjoys whether that is sport, cooking, art or online gaming. Be interested.
- Give very gentle praise on the positive, no matter how small these behaviours are, such as where they are independent or do something new. This helps to increase their self-belief in what they are able to do.
- Younger children can draw a power friend, e.g. their favourite animal or a superhero. Take time to label and discuss each part of their ‘alter ego’. Maybe the feet are bright pink confidence shoes or the ears brings a gentle soft feeling in the tummy. Allow your child to come up with their own words and labels as they are the most powerful. They can then use this image in their minds to work magic and to activate these resources in themselves.
- Encourage them to realise that their thoughts in their head about situations are often very different to the reality. Use examples of other times that they have thought something was going to be bad but was actually much more positive than they expected.
- Teach your child to be with all their feelings and acknowledge them rather than avoid them, even those they don’t like. No emotion or state is permanent.
- Gain an agreement for them to step out of their comfort zone (even for a few moments). Before doing something new or anxiety inducing ask your child to rate their anxious feelings on a scale of 0-10 (or 0-100 for older ones). Then once they have been exposed to the situation, rerate to assess how it actually was. Often the anticipation of an event is worse than the reality.
- If they aren’t attending school an initial goal may be to walk to the bus stop followed by walking through the school gates and then to attend registration. They can record any success with a drawing or writing in a diary. Small successes can often be dismissed by children (and adults) even though all are valid in increasing pride and confidence in how they are able to cope and in what they are actually able to deal with. Each is a building block to the next and a record of these achievements is good proof to look back at.
- Encourage them to listen to a regular relaxation recording each night before bed. There are many on YouTube and CDs are available too. I am able to make recordings to order. Prices start at £50 for a personalised recording. Get in touch to find out more.
- Get support from a professional. Here is a testimonial taken from Facebook review from a child who was a school refuser: “Would just like to say thank you so much for sorting my worries & anxiety out as I have suffered for 7 years which held my life back in lots of ways. You are very kind & understanding. I feel like the old boy has gone and s (sic) new boy has been found. I am loving life now, worry free & enjoying time with my family and friends and out all the time doing new adventures.” TH (age 13)
I work with children from age 6 upwards.