Emotionally Based School Avoidance / School Refusal post lockdown

We expect to see a rise in emotionally based school avoidance (EBSA) in the coming months. It’s likely both that young people who’ve struggled with this in the past may struggle again and we expect to see a rise in new cases, often linked in with separation anxiety, academic anxiety or social anxiety.

When should I worry?

It’s time to worry when a child is significantly distressed by attending school and feels unable to engage.  This can be accompanied by distressing or challenging behaviour and the child may not be able to articulate the precise reasons for their feelings. It’s most easily picked up on by a change in attendance or punctuality and may also be noticeable in your behaviour records with children who previously flew by under the radar suddenly presenting a cause for concern.  

What should I do?

Work with the child and the family to try to get to the heart of the issue; avoiding school will be meeting a need of some kind.  Until we can recognise that need, we’re unable to support the child to meeting it in a more constructive way.  There are many potential answers here which might include bullying, academic anxiety, social anxiety or, in the current context, health related anxiety. 

Work with the family as well as with the child as where you find a child with EBSA you will often find a parent or carer at their wits end who feels guilty, ashamed and exhausted but who, with your support and input, is likely to be the best chance you have of enabling a child to attend school. 

Simple things make a big difference. You could try setting small goals for the child, providing a warm welcome each time they attend and allowing them regular chances to touch in and emotionally regulate with a trusted adult.

Further support

Break the cycle of emotionally based school avoidance (school refusal) – on demand

Lyra – aged 10 talks about school anxiety and school avoidance – YouTube video

The West Sussex Emotionally Based School Avoidance toolkit is fantastic and provides leaflets for children and families as well as very thorough guidance for schools: https://westsussex.local-offer.org/information_pages/460-emotionally-based-school-avoidance