School refusal. It sounds simple. But it is so very complex. There can be many reasons behind school refusal. For my little boy the cause of this is demand avoidance. The necessity to get out of bed, to have breakfast, to get dressed and to leave the house by a particular time can all be too much of a demand and he is physically unable to comply. At times he will lie in bed powerless to get up. He says to me “it’s not that I don’t want to get up but I just can’t”. You can almost see the internal battle that he is experiencing. At this point in time, no amount of persuasion (or even bribery!) will be effective. It requires time and patience for him to be able to overcome the physical resistance that he faces.
It’s not that he doesn’t like school. He is at a specialist school with small classes and when he attends he generally gets on well and enjoys it. However he struggles greatly with the transition between home and school, particularly after weekends and holidays. No matter how much we prepare him, he still finds the start of a new week or term extremely difficult.
It seems the more pressure that is put upon him to be on time, the more demand avoidant he becomes. At the point of refusal he appears unable to think logically and can not use strategies that we have put in place to help him get ready for school. All reasoning goes out of the window and meltdowns are a frequent occurrence.
Sadly though, the hardest aspect of school refusal is the lack of support and understanding from schools. It is exhausting enough for a parent to deal with day in and day out, but to lack the support of a school is soul destroying. Parents need help, not the added pressure that is created by making unfair accusations and threats. All too often it seems that the mental health and well-being of parents in this situation is overlooked. How refreshing it would be for a teacher to ask parents how they were coping, rather than blaming them for not being able to get their child to school.
My sympathy goes out to all other parents going through school refusal with their child. I know all too well how difficult this is and the impact that it has upon on the whole family.