Highly anxious children who refuse to return to school make up 2 to 5 percent of school age children
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that anxiety-based refusal to go to school – or chronic absenteeism – affects between 2 and 5 percent of school-aged children.
Repeated absences due to traumatic events such as depression, anxiety, or family crises lead to what is being called “school refusal” – a child refusing to attend school.
Matt Doyle, a therapist and clinical social worker, says that some children may even suffer physical symptoms at the thought of going to school such as upset stomachs or panic attacks.
Although the cause of school refusal may differ with each individual child, Emmanual Pariser, of the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, says the main issue leading to highly anxious children is trust.
“I do feel like the immediate cause for our kids is some kind of rupture in their relationships with adults, and that school does not feel like a safe place for them to be.”
“And when you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety is the No.1. If they don’t feel they’re safe, they cannot learn.”
Some schools begin implementing strategies to combat school refusal
The Maine Academy of Natural Sciences implemented The Threshold Program to help students with severe anxiety continue to get an education.
In the program, teachers visit the homes of students – so far, 21 students with various social anxiety disorders are enrolled.
Doyle implements a similar program in Massachusetts, visiting the homes of children who are too anxious to attend school.
“. . .the things I hear about are very diverse,” Doyle said, mentioning issues from fear of failure to bullying.
Both Doyle and Pariser recommend supporting students as opposed to punishing them, and help them ease back into the classroom.