Do you have an anxious child?

Alyssa Leonard
By Alyssa Leonard April 20, 2018 14:29

A chart describing the behavioural Characteristics of School Refusers and Truants

By Alyssa Leonard

When it comes to a child missing school, there is a fine line between truancy and school avoidance or refusal.

One of the signs of an anxious child is the refusal of going to school, participating in other activities or seeing friends. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, anxiety is the most common mental health problem in young people.

School avoidance is also common. In a presentation by psychologist Dr. Janet Orchard, during the second annual Parent Involvement Committee parent fair at the Ciociaro Club on April 17, it was revealed that 28 per cent of school aged kids have either flirted with school avoidance or fall under it. In that percentage, only eight per cent are considered truant (missing school without good reason).

“People think it’s sickness [when the anxiety starts], and maybe it is in the beginning, but if you’re anxious and you discover something that keeps you away from something that makes you anxious, it grows and gets to be a bigger and bigger problem,” said Orchard, Director of the Acute Psychiatric Inpatient Program and Outpatient Services at Maryvale Adolescent and Family Services.

Orchard said little kids tend to avoid specific things at school, such as the introduction of a substitute teacher or a fight with friends. She said they may present their anxious feelings to their parents as being at school makes them feel “bad” but are incapable at their age of explaining why. Sometimes they may talk about sick stomachs or headaches.

“The ugly truth about parenting an anxious child is that the worst thing you can do allow that anxious child to stay home from school,” said Orchard. “Because the more they stay home from school, the more they want to stay home from school.”

Four distinct reasons that children may avoid or refuse to attend school.

The Anxiety Disorders Association of British Columbia claims school refusal peaks at several points of development, including with entry into Kindergarten. The risk with school avoidance is the child will fall behind or fail to meet academic milestones, have difficulty developing and maintaining friendships, become isolated from peers and miss opportunities to learn new things and engage in fun activities.

“Whether your child exhibits difficulties as young as two, not until they are well into primary school, into middle school [grades 6-8] or high school [grades 9-12], it is important that prompt attention is given to understanding why your child is struggling, and that you provide tools to help him/her adapt. The longer school refusal persists, the more entrenched the behaviours become, and as expected, the more difficult they are to correct,” said AnxietyBC’s webpage on school refusal.

Stephen Fields, communications coordinator for the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board, said children today deal with a lot more anxiety and stress than they ever have before. He said teaching staff how to spot the signs has been integrated into their self development days as well as the WECDSB’s curriculum.

“It is something that we take very seriously and we do everything that we can to make sure that kids are being properly accommodated for, that they are able to recognize the signs of mental health issues and that we are pointing them in the right direction so that they are able to get the help that they need.”

Orchard said people who identify with anxiety in adulthood began experiencing it usually in late childhood and early adolescence.

Fields said at the WECDSB they have a psychologist, a mental health lead and child and youth workers in their system to help identify and work with students who experience anxiety and to help them learn how to handle it. He said they also assist with finding community resources for the children and parents if they require further help.

“Every day they’re in our schools, they’re dealing with students and they’re connecting with community organizations at the same time to try and make sure that those are all coming together and that we’re taking a holistic approach that they’re being adequately cared for.”

Alyssa Leonard
By Alyssa Leonard April 20, 2018 14:29

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