For some families, one of the most challenging consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak has been the heightened responsibility and pressure placed on parents. While a vast amount of resources have been disseminated outlining ways to help children thrive at home during the lockdown, what we have yet to discuss is how to help parents support their children as they return to school. Over the coming days, we will take a look at this topic in a three part blog series aimed at assisting families with school refusal.
Similar to the high-risk period for school refusal symptoms we observe in post-holiday periods, there is reason to anticipate that school refusal will be a concern for many families as we work through the process of children returning to school. It is important to clarify that many children become upset and plead with their parents to stay home, particularly after long breaks from school. For most children, the mild distress they experience is alleviated shortly after they return to school and experience its positive aspects, such as spending time with their friends and being encouraged by teachers. However, not to be confused with truancy; children with school refusal become severely distressed by the prospect of attending school, which manifests in forms such as panic symptoms, crying episodes, temper tantrums, and excessive fearfulness. Children with school refusal also report experiencing a range of somatic symptoms, such as stomachaches, headaches, chest pains, nausea, and abdominal pain.
Regardless of the reason for absenteeism, children who frequently miss school are at risk for a range of serious and far reaching sequelae, including social problems, low academic achievement and reading proficiency, risky health behaviours, and lower rates of graduation. For this reason, it is crucial that we take proactive measures to support children as they gradually return to school. Fortunately, there are many effective strategies that parents, schoolteachers, and mental health professionals can harness to assist with this process.
Keep your eyes out for more on this topic later in the week, when we look at what drives school refusal, and tactics we can utilise at home to ease fears.