It's the third time this week that Sam has complained of a headache or Shaundra has an upset stomach. Daniel cries before leaving school and Tanya won't get out of the car upon arrival to the school parking lot. Most parents simply don't know what to do when this occurs. Does the parent insist the child go to school or allow the child to stay home and hope the problem goes away?
Children often have very real reasons for not wanting to go to school. Maybe the child forgot to study for a test, had a fight with a friend, experienced an embarrassing moment, or fears a bully might be waiting on the playground. Children have not learned how to handle every situation that arises, so sometimes, avoidance seems like the best answer. Occasionally, the problems are at home: a sick parent, an impending divorce, or other stressful situations that might make a child reluctant to leave home. Even if no problem exists at home, some children continue to experience intense separation anxiety. Even though the fear is irrational, the fear is intense and very real.
Stephen Garber, Ph.D., author of Good Behavior Made Easy, offers these strategies to promote school attendance:
*Reassure your child.
Parental support and reassurance may help a child who is overreacting or embarrassed by an awkward situation until the memory fades.
*Set criteria for staying home from school.
Schools set criteria for students staying home from school, for example, if a child has a temperature. If a child is sick enough to stay home, he or she should have reduced activity or no friends should visit for playtime.
*Talk it up.
Mark the school calendar with special events. Emphasize what your child likes about school and encourage school friendships.
*Get your child to school.
Define a morning routine and get through the routine quickly.
*Ignore negative comments.
Ignore your child's negative comments and praise positive comments he or she makes about school.
*Praise and reinforce your child for attending school with a good attitude.
Praise every move your child makes toward school.
If your child continues to experience difficulties saying good-bye, try the following suggestions.
Seek advice from the teacher, who has had experience working through separation anxiety. Develop a good-bye plan. Parents feel less conflicted after leaving school after following what parent and teacher have both agreed as a smart good-bye plan.
If your child refuses to get out of the car or walk into the building, talk to the teacher or other school personnel to further develop the good-bye plan. School personnel are available to meet your child at the "point of good-bye" and assist the child from the car. If no help is available, stand or sit for a few minutes. If your child is still unwilling to go after this brief time, escort your child to class. Stay calm, even if your child kicks or hits. Go through your good-bye plan as best as possible. Then leave. It is unlikely the behavior will continue for long. The audience is gone.
*Emotional Button Pushing
Children are masters at pushing parental emotional buttons! If your child tries to delay your departure and keep you at school by making a string of requests, "One more kiss. Come see the goldfish! Help me put up my backpack!"???.be firm! Say good-bye. Stick to your good-bye plan.
If parent and child have entered an escalating cycle of anger, tears, and frustration over good-byes at school, try having someone else drop off the child. A spouse, familiar care giver, or any other adult the child knows well are all possibilities.
Resist your very natural urge to overprotect your child. Parents who work with children through difficult good-byes, help children develop competence in themselves.
Keep in mind most stressful good-bye behavior ends shortly after parent and child separate. Do communicate with your child's teacher regarding the length of time your child continues to cry or misbehave after your departure. The quicker your child settles down, the better the chance of changing the departure plan, if you stick the daily good-bye routine. If the teacher reports your child continues to demonstrate distress in ways that are disruptive to participation and enjoyment of the school day for themselves or other classmates, seek advice from the school on what you all, as a team, should do. In extreme cases, outside professionals might be consulted by the parents to explore any underlying medical issues or perhaps, the possibility of school phobia.
Nancy Hall, author of Goodbyes, indicates some children who have never experienced good-bye problems are not immune to developing such behavior at some point. Stress can precipitate a good-bye crisis. Events such as a family change, birth of a sibling, marital difficulties, military deployment of a family member, a residential move, or an upcoming parent business trip may trigger a good-bye crisis. Such events can create anxiety in the child,
Again, communicate with the teacher. When speaking with your child's teacher about home events that may affect school good-byes, you need not reveal private personal details. Share enough to provide insight to what could be causing the sudden good-bye difficulty. When a change is happening to the family, the importance of working with the school is of particular importance, should the child demonstrate sudden school-related behavioral issues.
No matter what the stress, a child's anxiety may be further reduced by a parent being more available during times when the child is not at school. Acknowledge your child's feelings. Reassure your child you will always be there for them.
The majority of children feel at ease with predictable separations and confident in their own budding social and cognitive skills within the first few months of the school year. Although hard to imagine at this point, don't be surprised on some future Saturday, your now hesitant child says, "But I want to go to school today!"
Sheree S. Marty has worked with elementary school children as a school counselor for the past nine years. A physical education teacher for thirteen years, Ms. Marty earned her Master degree in Counseling in 2000. Ms. Marty is the author and owner of "Chinese Jump Rope", a childrens games book and website. For more information, visit http://chinesejumprope.tripod.com