On one extreme, you have kids who just love to go to school, and you can almost use not going to school as a punishment.
For others kids though, it is often a daily battle to get them to school.
An even bigger problem involves those kids who don't like going to school, but who aren't real open it. Instead of simply saying that they don't like going to school, they might complain of frequent stomach aches, headaches, or just not feeling well. Although common on school days, especially in the morning, when related to school avoidances, these symptoms don't usually occur on weekends or over school holidays and breaks.
Sometimes it can be hard to know if a child is really sick or just doesn't want to go to school though...
If your child really wakes up sick, you can also often expect them to:
- have a fever
- have other symptoms, like vomiting, diarrhea, cough, a runny nose, swollen glands, or a red throat, etc.
- wake up saying that they feel sick and not simply prompting that they can't go to school
Still, your Pediatrician and a full medical examination is the first place to start when your child seems to have chronic symptoms or any kind of school avoidance behavior. If there doesn't seem to be a medical cause of your child's symptoms, then it may help to look into other possible reasons for why your child doesn't want to go to school, including that he:
- has a real phobia or fear of going to school because he is being teased by other children, is the victim of a bully, or remembers something that got him embarrassed
- doesn't like school because he is struggling so much because of a learning disability or ADHD
- is having problems separating from a parent (separation anxiety)
- has anxiety or depression or is having problems coping with major changes and stressors at home, like from a divorce or family move
- is afraid that he isn't going to live up to your expectations (fear of failure)
- is overscheduled and already doing too much
- stayed home when he really was sick and now just prefers to be home
Once you eliminate most treatable conditions, it is time to get your child back into school. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is good to use a 'step-wise return to school,' in which he goes part-time at first, but quickly returns to a full day at school. By choosing when and for how long he goes back, this plan gives your child some control and can be helpful.
However, if he does stay home, the AAP recommends that your child 'should not receive any special treatment' and that you should 'keep discussions about physical symptoms or anxieties to a minimum,' with the hope that his symptoms will go away once he starts to go to school more regularly again.
On days that your child misses school, he should also be reminded that he will have to miss any regularly scheduled after-school events, including sports, parties, or sleep-overs, etc.
And if you get a call from school that he is sick, it might be helpful to send a note to allow him to lay down in the nurses office for 10 minutes and then return to class instead of simply rushing to school to pick him up.
Although the goal is to get your child to go to school, if you find that your child is getting more upset as you try to 'force' him to go or if you suspect that your child has any of the problems mentioned above, like anxiety or depression, them it is time to get some extra help. In addition to your child's pediatrician, teacher and counselor at school, a child psychologist and/or child psychiatrist can be helpful in treating kids with these school avoidance behaviors.