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School Refusal and your Child

School refusal — also called school phobia is a separation anxiety disorder suffered by school age children for a variety of reasons. In addition to school-related factors — such as bullying or academic failure —a common cause of school refusal is divorce. During the divorce process some children become so anxious about the lack of certainty in their home situation, or so concerned about their parent that they fear leaving the parent alone during the school day. School refusal is often misunderstood, but is easily remedied when diagnosed and treated appropriately. 

How to diagnose school refusal 

If your child is missing a day of school here and there, that is not cause for concern. If, however they are missing days and weeks at a time while not exhibiting outward signs of illness, this could be school refusal. The diagnosis of school refusal begins by attempting to reach the root cause by doing the following: 

  • Speak with teacherseliminate the possibility that the child is struggling academically, socially or personally in the school environment
  • Speak to child’s friendsask friends if they know what the problem is
  • Consult with physicianeliminate the possibility that the child is actually physically ill
  • Avoid rewarding for staying homeresist coddling and otherwise making home a more appealing environment than school
  • Look in the mirrormake certain you are not turning to your child for emotional support or exhibiting signs of depression or desperation that might instill fear and worry in your child

School refusal is not simply a matter of a child disliking school or preferring not to attend. Children who suffer from this disorder are incapable of attending school. Never force a child to go to school when doing so exacerbates the symptoms of anxiety. A trained child psychologist or cognitive behavioral therapist can be instrumental in helping your child to return to school and regular activities. 

If you are divorcing and your life feels out of control, this may be negatively affecting your child. A highly skilled divorce attorney can help you feel more contained and in control, enabling you to normalize your home environment during the divorce process.

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