Managing School Refusal POST COVID

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In this webinar...

Bobbi Cook shares strategies for managing school refusal after Covid lockdowns.

There are 3 types of school refusal:

  • Reluctant

  • Avoidant

  • Refusal

Why refuse to go to school when you can finally go?


  • Feeling sick, vomiting, pale, headache

  • Fear of unknown

  • Haven’t been engaged with online learning and fear of consequence

  • Fear of seeing friends face to face

  • Will I know what to say, I have changed will my friends still like me


What is school avoidance?

Finding excuses to be late for school or to be collected early

  • Feeling sick, vomiting, pale, headache

  • Excessive concern and focus on wellbeing of friends

  • Sleep inversion and unable to get up, not being able to go to sleep at night

  • Going to sick bay, toilet or wellbeing - a lot

  • Forgetting things that are critical for their day (books, lunch, bus pass) and requiring you come to the school

What is school refusal?

The act of putting more energy into not getting to school each day than it would take to go to school

Internalized and externalized

  • Feeling sick, vomiting, pale, headache

  • Sleep inversion and unable to get up, not being able to go to sleep at night

  • Melting or Shutting down

  • Starting an argument that is so intense that all concerned are left exhausted

What is Task and Demand Avoidance?

The act of putting more energy into avoiding doing a task than it actually takes to do the task

  • Asking the same question over and over

  • Banging or bumping self and having an over the top response

  • Going to the loo for 1000000000 minutes

  • Starting an argument


Confusing for parents and teachers and initially unpredictable.

  • You don’t know what you don’t know

  • Consider obvious antecedents

  • Not intentional/ not malicious

  • Understanding reduces your stress

Anxiety is a normal and reasonable reasonable response to our current setting.

  • Real and perceived threats

  • World being a scary and unpredictable place

  • Misunderstanding and misreading cues and norms

  • Bullying and teasing

  • Misunderstood, judged, sanctioned and punished

  • Sensory processing issues and sensory over stimulated or under stimulated

  • Demand avoidance

Anxiety Disorders

  • Generalised anxiety disorder - is excessive, uncontrollable worry about a range of ordinary situations like health, work or finances.

  • Social phobia - causes people to avoid social or performance situations for fear of being embarrassed or rejected.

  • Panic disorder - is associated with regular panic attacks, which are sudden intense episodes of irrational fear, shortness of breath, dizziness and other physical symptoms.

  • Agoraphobia - is often associated with panic disorder, and involves avoiding certain situations due to fear of having a panic attack.

  • Specific phobias - are irrational fears that only apply to one particular situation, such as a fear of animals, insects, places or people (for example claustrophobia is a specific fear of enclosed or confined spaces).

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) - involves unwanted thoughts and impulses (obsessions), causing repetitive, routine behaviours (compulsions) as a way of coping with anxiety.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - when feelings of fear or avoidance do not fade after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic life event.

Other Presentations of Anxiety

  • Anticipatory anxiety – awfulise and catastrophise

  • Delayed anxiety

  • Sensory responses

  • Demand avoidance 

  • School refusal

  • Intense, intractable special interests

  • IT addiction and obsession and resultant meltdowns

  • Asthma, eczema and food intolerances and allergies


Myths about Juvenile Anxiety

  • It is the parent’s fault

  • Just naughty, it is the child’s choice

  • Requires discipline

  • They don’t try hard enough

  • Attention seeking behaviour

  • Ignore it

  • Make them do it

  • Avoidance is helpful

  • Ignore their questions

  • Reassurance feeds it

  • We are enablers

  • Takes years to see treatments help

  • Medication is addictive

  • This is a life sentence

Theory of Mind

Theory of Mind is the ability to imagine what someone else might be feeling and moderating your behaviour in response

and the ability to predict and interpret others behaviour.

  • Unable to imagine how someone else feels

  • Unable to experience empathy

  • Assumption you don’t know how they feel until they make you experience it

  • Often laugh with relief and leave you or another child in a puddle on the floor

As result of a not having a developed theory of mind, children will have difficulty:

  • Predicting

  • Reading intentions

  • Understanding emotions

  • Explaining own behavior

  • Perspective or reference

  • Reading and reacting to others’ interests

  • Understanding social interactions

Capacity versus Ability

Your young person my have the ability to do something but they may not have the capacity to do it at different times.

This can be confusing for people outside the family who are may judge the way you deal with the variance in ability and capacity.

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