I never went to school.
When I say never, I don’t actually mean never, but I do mean I rarely attended. It started young. In first grade, I believe I attended 18 days of school. My track record got better until 8th grade, when it went downhill again.
I had asthma, and got bronchitis multiple times a year, but it was more than that. The more I was absent from school, the harder it was to go back. The dread about returning felt worse than the sickness. Eventually, the dread about returning became the sickness. I can’t even complain about being bullied. I had friends, and I was good at school. I just somehow couldn’t face it.
I didn’t realize that school refusal was a thing until I was a principal, and had a child in the school who was consistently truant. All of a sudden, it felt familiar. I said to the child’s parents, “I think I understand what’s going on.”
Kids have a lot to be anxious about.
School refusal is not a disorder, it’s a symptom of anxiety. All of this to say that children express anxiety in all kinds of ways, expected and unexpected. These days, they have a lot to be anxious about. The recent focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) is giving students tools for understanding their feelings, and I hope that means, for many children, a more positive, less anxious, school experience.
SEL Day is coming up on March 26; in preparation, here’s a template filled with starter resources that I hope will be useful for you and your classroom or school community. It’s reassuring to know that even though I might not have gotten the helping hand that I once needed, a child in your class will.