Not all children refuse school due to sheer laziness

It is no secret that we’ve all pretended to suffer from headaches and stomachaches when we were little, just so we could bunk school. This habit, however, never became a continuous practice. But are you aware that there do exist several children who have such an aversion towards schooling that it is almost as if they have a phobia towards school and what it represents. This is indeed a very frustrating event for a parent and no doubt would adversely impact the child’s education as well as his or her social and emotional development. But have you, as a parent, thought about the root cause for this behaviour? Can there be a more serious pathology underlying their continuous refusal to attend school, other than the need to stay at home and laze around?

This week, Health Capsule consulted Dr. Udena Attygalle, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the Karapitiya Teaching Hospital, to study this subject.

How do they present

“Refusal to go to school is not a diagnosis but a presentation. Children give various excuses and explanations to bunk school. This is not an illness. This could happen due to many reasons. The condition is commoner in the society than we think it is,” Dr. Attygalle said.

Complaints over various symptoms such as abdominal pain or headache cease to exist the very moment we allow the child to stay at home. Crying in the classroom, wanting to go home, frequently complaining about the school and absenteeism on days when an assignment or speech is due, are several ways a child with school phobia can present.

Underlying reasons

Despite the opinion of a majority of parents that their child is refusing to school out of sheer laziness, there may be many other underlying reasons for this nature. According to Dr. Attygalle, these reasons may originate in school, at home, while commuting or may just be the temperament of the child.

A problem in the school environment like bullies or strict teachers can be the precipitating factor, but there may be more serious complications such as an underlying learning disorder like Dyslexia or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

A child who has separation anxiety may refuse to go to school for the fear of being separated from his or her family and the environment. In other cases, problems at home, a sick parent or financial constraints may want a child to keep away from school.

At times, this condition neither relates to home nor school environment, but another source. For instance, being bullied in school or on their way home. In such a scenario, the child will agree to go to school if the parent drop them.

“In some cases, this condition is not caused by the outside environment, but due to the child’s temperament. For instance, if two children get scolded by the same teacher for not doing their homework, one of them may take it in stride while the other will be anxious and depressed, wanting to bunk classes to avoid any such repetition. There are also a few children who simply prefer to stay at home without any particular reason. In most of the cases, it is not just one of these causes but a combination of them that presents a child’s refusal to go to school,” Dr. Attygalle said.

How should parents approach the child?

The main advantage parents have in dealing with this condition is the bond between them and their child. This helps in recognising the presentation early and the child is more likely to reveal the cause for his or her refusal to go to school. For this, the child should feel that the parents are accessible and emotionally available.

According to Dr. Attygalle, the most important thing is to find the root cause. To figure out why the child is refusing to go to school. This should be done in a manner that does not stress out the child further. Finding solutions for those problems have much long-term results than forcefully sending the child to school.

“A parent should be very delicate when handling the situation as parental involvement may aggravate the problem than resolving it. For instance, if the parents find out that their child is being bullied in school, they should never confront the bully or bullies as the child may face the risk of being rejected or further humiliated by his peers. The approach differs from child to child. It may depend on their age, the severity of the underlying issue and the child him/herself,” Dr. Attygalle said.

If parents find it difficult to get the child to open up about the issues he or she faces, they are advised to seek professional help before it is too late.

“Refusal to go to school should be dealt with as early as possible. The longer the child stays away from school, the further he or she lags behind. This may also contribute to other issues like fear of exclusion from friends,” Dr. Attygalle said.

Is our education system responsible for this condition?

“Yes, at least partly. Even though we cannot blame the education system entirely, its fiercely competitive nature that gives a child little or no chance to make mistakes and learn from them definitely contributes to this condition. Hence, we as a society must ensure a peaceful learning atmosphere in schools when dealing with children,” Dr. Attygalle said.

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