Welcome back. I hope your transition from holidays to Term 1 was seamless and your children were excited about seeing their friends and their teachers again. However, I do understand that is not the case for a small but growing group of students who experience anxiety about going back to school which sometimes leads to school avoidance.
It’s normal to have a small amount of anxiety about heading back to school and it seems that the older the child, the more common the reluctance to rush back to school. Navigating school avoidance can be a challenging journey for both parents and students. As we strive to create a supportive environment for all our students, we need to work hand in hand with you to address and overcome these challenges.
The following are eight proven preventative strategies that you can adopt at your home to give your child the best possible inoculation against falling prey to chronic school avoidance.
1. Understanding the Signs:
Firstly, it’s crucial to recognise the signs of school avoidance linked to anxiety. These signs may include:
- frequent complaints of vague physical ailments,
- reluctance to get out of bed and get ready for school,
- reluctance to participate in school activities,
- a sudden drop in academic performance.
If you observe these indicators, open communication with your child is key.
2. Open and Honest Conversations:
Engage in open and honest conversations with your child about their feelings regarding school. Create a safe space where they feel comfortable expressing their concerns. Listen attentively, validating their emotions without judgment. Understanding the root cause is the first step toward finding a solution.
It’s helpful to remember that just because your child feels anxious about something (e.g. exams, assignments, etc.) it does not mean they have an ‘anxiety’ disorder. In the vast majority of cases feeling anxious is the body’s natural response to upcoming events that are important and require attention. For instance, the anxiety that comes when a test or assignment is looming is healthy, natural and a motivator to study and do well. Of course, there is a fine line between a healthy and unhealthy response to stress that needs to be monitored by parents.
3. Collaborate with Teachers, Pastoral Care Teachers and College Pastors:
If you suspect that your child is slipping into school avoidance and anxiety it is vital to let the College know as soon as possible. The best person to contact is either your class teacher in Primary or Year Level Coordinator in Middle and Senior. Working in partnership with the College is really the only way to successfully navigate this issue. Our dedicated staff at Glasshouse Christian College are here to support you and your child.
4. Establish Consistent Routines:
Establishing regular routines at home and school helps create predictability and thus reduce anxiety levels. Ensure adequate sleep, a balanced diet, and time for relaxation in your child’s daily schedule.
Regular school attendance is the most important routine to establish in your family to successfully inoculate your child from avoiding school. It is rare for children who have a consistent attendance record to fall into chronic school avoidance.
As a parent, it is difficult to see your child suffering but it is terribly unhelpful to permit your child to stay at home because they feel anxious. This will feed their anxiety and make it harder for them to attend in the following days and weeks. It can also lead to other situations where feeling anxious will be detrimental to their academic, physical, emotional and social well-being.
5. Model Coping Strategies:
You must be a calm presence in your child’s life when they are feeling anxious. Model the coping strategies you are encouraging your child to embrace and resist the urge to protect them from feeling anxious. Remember, there is nothing wrong with feeling anxious; it is a tool to help us prepare for what lies ahead.
6. Seek Professional Guidance:
If unhelpful and debilitating anxiety persists, then seeking professional guidance is paramount. Consult with a mental health professional experienced in working with children. They can provide valuable insights and coping strategies tailored to your child’s specific needs.
7. Encourage Peer Support:
Encourage your child to connect with peers who can offer support. Building positive relationships with classmates can contribute significantly to their sense of belonging and alleviate feelings of isolation. Joining one of GCC’s extracurricular opportunities is another good way to foster a sense of belonging and help overcome anxiety.
8. Celebrate Small Victories:
Acknowledge and celebrate small victories along the way. Whether it’s attending a full week of school without trying to stay at home or participating in a class presentation, recognising these achievements reinforces a positive mindset.
Remember, addressing school avoidance and anxiety is a collaborative effort that will require patience and consistency. By working together, we can create an environment that promotes the well-being and academic success of every student at Glasshouse Christian College.
Let’s make 2024 the year of growth, resilience, and great attendance at Glasshouse Christian College.
Mike Curtis, Principal