- Mental Health
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It’s the first day of school. Yesterday, thirteen year old Jade excitedly picked out her clothes and chatted with her friends. She had been waiting for years to start high school. But today, Jade is still in bed, head hidden beneath the covers. It’s 7:55 and the first bell will ring at 8:15. There is no amount of reassurance or cheerleading that is going to get her to move. Her mother sits, despairing, at the kitchen table. “She’s never going to make it. I can’t believe this,” she sighs to herself.
If you’re the caregiver of a child or teen, chances are you’ve experienced refusals at some point. And, of course they often come exactly at the wrong time. Nothing can feel more frustrating then trying to get a stuck kid unstuck. It can seem like they’re doing it just to get your goat or prove a point. But, while sometimes people do dig their heels in for those reasons, most refusals come from a common place: anxiety.
In essence, refusing to do something is often a “freeze” response to overwhelming stress. Helping a child out of “freeze” mode isn’t easy, but here are some things to try:
If nothing works, consider that there may be more to the refusal than meets the eye (i.e. a bigger issue at school than the youth has disclosed or more intense anxiety for child and/or parent). In this situation, your child may need more guidance to solve the problem and more planning to make the school entry successful. If school refusal persists, it’s important to get help from a mental health professional as soon as possible, because the longer a youth avoids school, the higher the anxiety usually gets. With a team approach from caregivers, the school and a healthcare provider, children and teens can usually get back to school and back on track.
After a few minutes, Jade’s mom went back to her room and sat with her on her bed. She asked calmly about what was going on for Jade. Sensing the genuine curiosity, Jade told her. Her mother agreed that having to meet a hundred new kids did sound pretty scary and it made sense that Jade was having doubts despite all her excitement. Hearing her mom accept her fear, Jade felt a tiny bit of relief. It was enough so that she remembered her plan to have lunch with her best friend, and that was enough to get her to pull off her covers. Before running out the door, she blamed her mom for not waking her up earlier, but she made it to school with 2 minutes to spare.
*Image courtesy of flickr user Homini:) https://www.flickr.com/photos/homini/5108169853