Parents and educators struggle daily with children and students not wanting to go to school. That’s normal. When children and students completely refuse to go to school it becomes worrisome. Truancy is detrimental to a student’s success in school, and when a child is chronically absent grades slip and sometimes it is impossible to recover academically.
The Impact Truancy has on Student Academic Success
Truancy measures the number of unexcused absences a child has in school. Healthy Children has a number of startling statistics on chronic truancy in the United States, including the fact that it affects 6.5 million students nationwide. That’s nearly 13% of the total student population! Healthy Children states, “Children who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are less likely to read on grade level by the third grade. For older students, being chronically absent is strongly associated with failing at school―even more than low grades or test scores.” A student who misses a lot of school is also more likely to drop out, or fail out without graduating.
There are a number of factors that could lead to a student missing school, and one of them is anxiety. About 5% of children have school related anxiety, which leads to them refusing to attend school.
A Closer Look at Anxiety-Fueled School Refusals
According to KQED News, mental health professionals are taking a closer look at the run-of-the-mill truancy, and are now referring to some cases of chronic absenteeism as “school refusal”. This can be triggered by several factors including anxiety, depression, family crises, and other traumatic events, which can lead to weeks or even months of missed school days.
There is a lot to be said about the earlier manifestation of anxiety and mental health disorders in children and young adults. According to a study by the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics there are approximately 2 million American children and adolescents that have a diagnosable anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are also known to peak during the school year. This could be because of several factors such as student stress levels due to course load, or bullying and cyber bullying incidents.
Typically, anxiety develops for students when they are transitioning from middle school to high school, or often comes to light as young as age 5 to 6 years old. In younger children it’s a lot more difficult to determine if a child is developing a mental health disorder, as the symptoms are harder to read and present themselves as negative behaviors. The Washington Post explains, “Parents and educators are quick to spot the behavior problem, but they don’t always see the underlying anxiety that drives it… The challenge often lies in the fact that kids might experience these emotions for the first time, without warning. They don’t necessarily know how to connect the dots between a racing heart, a stomach ache, feeling dizzy and anxiety.”
School Refusals: When to Intervene
When should teachers and school administrators intervene when they notice school refusals? The short answer is as soon as possible. The earlier the intervention, the more likely a student can get back on track. The longer the child is avoiding school, the more likely they are to fall behind and experience more drastic consequences. According to the Carrier Clinic, children with unresolved anxiety can often self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, and make rash decisions that protect them in the short term. “One study found that teenagers and young adults ages 14 to 24 with social anxiety were nearly 3 times as likely to develop depression later in life than those without the anxiety disorder.”
A key way to addressing student truancy due to anxiety is by getting parents involved. No parent wants their child to drop out of school. Keeping open lines of communication with parents and guardians not only keeps them fully involved in their child’s education, but it’s also an easy way to determine if a student has a string of absences that could be related to anxiety or a mental health disorder.
Alert Solutions recommends using an automated attendance alert, which sends home a message to parents or guardians using their preferred communication method. Not only does this make both students and parents accountable, but it’s also extremely easy to set up with our school notification platform, SwiftK12!
With the increased pressure for K-12 schools to address chronic truancy, we’ve also developed a guide to help tackle and reduce absenteeism. Want to learn more? Download the guide below!