Partnering with Parents to Help School Avoidant Students

  • To avoid school-related stimuli or situations that cause discomfort or anxiety (e.g., noisy cafeterias, bus rides, fire drills, crowded hallways, other children that make them uncomfortable such as bullies, not being able to do schoolwork because of learning differences, etc.)
  • To avoid evaluative or social situations related to school performance (e.g., tests, public speaking, athletic performance in the gym or on sports teams, etc.)
  • To receive attention from parents or caregivers (e.g., separation anxiety or the feeling that one or both parents need them, etc.)
  • To seek tangible rewards that make staying home more comfortable or enjoyable than going to school (e.g., access to video games, ability to sleep in, to work at a job, to socialize with friends outside of school, etc.)
  • Consider and address possible school-wide triggers for students’ avoidance behavior, e.g., bullying behaviors, COVID-related and other safety concerns, environmental aspects of the classrooms, hallways, cafeteria, etc. that might exacerbate or overwhelm children with anxiety or sensory issues.
  • Clearly identify the school team that is involved with each student’s intervention plan: teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, clinical staff, school nurse, parents, etc.
  • Ensure that there are ongoing professional development activities about school avoidance for teachers as well as onsite mental health staff.
  • Develop ongoing educational activities for parents and guardians and proactively work to discourage blame and shame about their children’s struggles.
  • Develop relationships with community mental health providers who can serve as resources for parents and students.
  • Collaborate with parent-clinician teams to develop on-site rewards for school attendance, to modify schedules as needed to support gradual exposure plans, and to create a “safe” place in the school where school avoidant students can ground themselves and self-regulate.
  • Create, post, and frequently re-state school-wide rules (and encourage teachers to do the same at the classroom level) to foster a sense of safety and structure.
  • Greet school avoidant students enthusiastically when they appear in school and recognize even the smallest successes.

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