School can be both an exciting and a challenging experience. A young person’s experience of school is influenced by many factors, such as peer relationships, learning ability and family life. Problems in these areas can lead a young person to develop a negative experience of school. Actively avoiding school, either by not attending school or not staying at school for the duration of the day, is known as school refusal.
School refusal can occur at any time during a young person’s schooling, however it is more likely to occur during high school. An Australian study prepared by Youth Support Coordinators highlights the increased likelihood of school refusal during periods of transitions, such as the move from primary to high school or the move from one school to another (2009). Australian research suggests that up to 9% of school population may experience school refusal at some point in time (Withers, 2004).
There can be multiple factors contributing to school refusal among children. Two significant factors appear to be experiences of anxiety and bullying (Kearney, 2007). Anxiety often manifests as physical symptoms, such as headaches and nausea, which can make it difficult for parents to distinguish whether their child’s complaint is medical or psychological in nature. Seeking medical advice and monitoring the timing of physical complaints can help discern the nature of the complaints. Being bullied at school is also another major contributor to children becoming fearful of school and thus attempting to avoid school (The Monash School Refusal Program). Other common factors include:
Difficulty in peer relationships
Fear/difficulties with teachers
Transition to high school
Traumatic life event
Warning signs that may indicate school refusal
Some indicators that your child may be school refusing are:
Frequent and unexplained absences from school
Frequent lateness to school
Absences on significant days (e.g., days on which tests or specific classes are scheduled)
Frequent requests to go to sick bay
Frequent requests to call home or to go home during the day
In the home
Complaints of physical symptoms when getting reading for school, e.g. headaches
A reluctance or refusal to get dressed for school
Negative comments about school
A reluctance to talk openly about their experiences at school
What can parents and teachers do to support children experiencing school refusal?
It is important for parents and teachers to address the initial concern(s) of their child, while at the same time supporting them to maintain school attendance. Asking open questions and engaging young people in collaborative problem solving allows them the opportunity to express their feelings and feel listened to. Things that may be helpful in addressing school refusal in your child are:
Identify the issue: Gaining an understanding of why your child is anxious about school can help with problem solving and developing strategies around helping them back into school. For example, if you child is being bullied, then a collaborative approach with the school on how to manage the issue may be the first step. If your child is nervous about a transition, then working through their fears and worries and equipping them with skills to manage stressful changes may be more appropriate. Seeking guidance with a Psychologist can help to clarify the issue behind your child’s school refusal and help to put in place effective strategies to facilitate your child’s transition back into school.
Keep things calm and predictable: Keeping morning routines and school routines (such as classroom and playground routines) calm and predictable can help to minimise your child’s anxiety about attending school and can facilitate positive school-based experiences. Routines can include things that you know your child finds calming, such as taking a shower, drawing, walking to school and meeting their friends at the gate.
Keep an open dialogue: Be your child’s advocate and support and keep the dialogue and communication open with the school as to why your child is fearful about attending school and what your child needs at school to help them feel safe. Help your child identify which staff they would feel safe with involving to support them and check in with these staff members regularly. Also be open with your child on the importance of school attendance and what things they, the school and you as a parent can do to support them.
Develop a sense of school connectedness: Feeling like a valued and important member of the school community can develop a child’s sense of confidence and happiness at school. Ask your child’s teacher for ideas of how to foster your child’s interests and gifts at school and strengthen school-friendships by inviting friends to play after school and on weekends. Praise your child for their efforts in attending school and don’t let the small gains they make go unnoticed.
Set some goals: Confronting feared situations is never an easy task, however, setting small goals with your child can help them gain a sense of confidence and mastery over their anxiety. With your child and their support team (eg. teachers, friend, grandparents), set small achievable goals to help them get back into their schooling, such as going to school for the morning, having mum walk them in, sitting near the teacher. Help your child challenge and replace any unhelpful thoughts along the way (eg. “I hate school”) and look for more realistic, helpful thoughts based on their experiences (eg. “going to school in the morning was ok, I was able to see my best friend and read my favourite book”). Reward your child for every achievement and continue to set small achievable steps to help them reach the goal of being back at school.
Withers, G. (23-24June, 2004) Disappearance: Some recent statistics and a commentary on non-attendance in school. Paper presented at the Learning Choice Expo conducted by the Dusseldorp Skills Forum: Sydney
Kearney, C. (2011). Dealing with school refusal behaviour: A primer for family physicians – workable solutions for unhappy youth and frustrated parents. Journal of Family Practice Online, Vol 55 No 8.David, P.
McLaughlin, R & Peace, D. Youth Engagement Strategy: Understanding and Addressing Chronic Student Absence Behaviour, School Refusal and Truancy in Primary and Secondary Schools: A comprehensive summary of reports http://education.qld.gov.au/studentservices/behaviour/docs/youth-engagement-strategy.pdf
Dudley, A. & Rollings, S. (2001). Anxiety and School Refusal. Monash University Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology, School Refusal Program
Social exclusion in the school environment is increasingly being recognised as a form of relational aggression or bullying, in which a child is exposed to harm through the manipulation of their social relationships and status (Edith Cowan University, 2009).
Social exclusion can take many forms, with children reporting a range of experiences from being deliberately excluded from a peer group to having rumours spread about them, being called names and being purposefully embarrassed. In any sense, social exclusion is fundamentally entails a lack of connectedness and participation from a peer group. Australian research suggests that approximately 1 in 6 children report experiences of social exclusion, however, this may under- represent true prevalence rates given the difficulties in measuring social exclusion which is often undertaken in covert and hidden ways (Edith Cowan University, 2009).
Who does it affect?
While belonging and connectedness to peers is important at any age, it is particularly relevant in adolescence. Research suggests that adolescents are particularly sensitive to peer rejection and as a group, may experience the most significant mental health effects such as depression and anxiety in response peer rejection. Adolescence is typically a time of increased independence from parents and family and increased dependence on their peer group. Identities are developed in relation to peer groups and peer group differences can become highly salient. The difficulty for adolescents is that ingroup and outgroup rules are fluid and as such, maintaining peer relationships can be fraught with complication (Leets & Wolf, 2005).
Studies on the neurological profile of children suggest that their brain areas for emotion (such as the Anterior Cingulate Cortex) become more activated in response to peer rejection with age, peaking in adolescence. In contrast, adolescents show significantly less activation in the brain regions which govern emotional regulation such as the Ventrolateral Prefrontal Cortex in response to peer rejection in comparison with younger children (Bolling, Pitskel, Deen, Crowley, Mayes & Pelphrey, 2011). This unique neurological profile for adolescents suggests that social exclusion at this age may be particularly distressing and that they may have significant difficulty in managing their distress.
Effects of social exclusion
Research suggests that the physical, emotional and mental health of children exposed to social exclusion can be compromised. For example, lower immune function, reduced sleep quality, reduced ability to calm oneself in times of distress, reduced self esteem, feelings of anxiety, depression and aggression have all been observed in children who have been excluded from a peer group (DeWall, Deckman, Pond & Bonser, 2011).
So what can we do?
Children and adults all have a core need to be loved and valued within secure and lasting positive relationships (DeWall et al., 2011). Helping children develop and maintain these secure relationships both with their family, peers and wider social group is an important part of their development. Research is telling us that children become aware of social rejection from a young age (Leets & Wolf, 2005) and can reason as to why it is wrong to exclude others from preadolescence (Killen, 2007). Thus talking with your child from a young age about inclusion of others, feelings that occur when exclusion is encountered and strategies to manage social exclusion is important. Some helpful tips are:
For the excluded child:
Be open, available and calm when your child needs to talk with you. Children often worry about upsetting or worrying their parents, so it is important to remain calm and engaged with your child.
Be responsive to your child. Affirm to them that they have the right to be safe and feel secure and that you will help them by talking with the school and providing a safe haven at home. For older children, listen to the action that they would like you to take and negotiate with them when it would be appropriate for you to talk with the school, for example, if they are still being excluded at the end of the week or if things escalate.
Be affirming. Tell and show your child that they are unconditionally loved and valued as a person. Enlist the support of family friends to share positive messages about your child and engage in their gifts, talents and interests. Build a circle of security around your child.
Make your home a safe haven. Minimise the risk of online social exclusion and bullying by monitoring technology use and using privacy settings and parental controls. The change of email addresses and mobile numbers may be necessary.
Help your child manage emotional distress but talking about their feelings and developing some self-coping statements such as “relax, don’t take it personally”. Help your child focus on their gifts, talents and interests.
Build your child’s friendships. Having one close friend has been shown to strengthen a child’s connectedness to school and self esteem. Help your child identify a friend or friends that share similar interests and foster the friendship through play dates and scheduled activities.
Use the high five principal. Help your child identify five people that they can seek support from and /or things to do, one for each finger, if they are being excluded. For example, seek out a special teacher, find a friend in an older year, go to the library or offer their help to the teacher on duty.
Develop ways your child can have some clear boundaries. Help your child communicate their distress and name the inappropriate behaviour of others through statements such as “I don’t like what you are doing and you need to stop” , “That is bullying and it is not right”. Help your child know that they need to seek support if the social exclusion continues.
Develop a tone in your family and school that demonstrates an environment of mutual respect and responsibility.
Have clear and well communicated policies on bullying and social exclusion and explore these regularly with the school community.
Encourage class-based discussions on the meanings of ingroups and outgroups and common misperceptions, such as “kids who wear glasses are not good at sports”. Find examples in everyday life that will challenge these misperceptions. Extend discussions to help children realise the moral and emotional implications of social exclusion.
Facilitate teamwork and an atmosphere of inclusion by choosing working or sporting groups based on arbitrary characteristics such as birth months, favourite animals or having a rotating system by which every half day, the group rotates by one member.
Develop strong networks between teaching staff and children by including children in lessons, school activity planning and open discussions. Having the principal visible and available can also help develop an atmosphere of inclusion and connectedness.
Get the wider peer group involved. Social exclusion thrives when surrounding peers do not intervene. Help children understand why it is important to help others and strategies to do so, such as saying things like “stop that is not fair, leave her alone, she’s my friend” or know a teacher whom they can approach.
Again, programs like ‘The Best of Friends’ can be offered school wide to ensure the social skills and communication strategies are consistently applied.
1. Leets, L. & Wolf, S. (2005). Adolescent rules for social exclusion: when is it fair to exclude someone else? Journal of Moral Education, 34 (3), 343-362.
2. Killen, M. (2007). Children’s Social and Moral Reasoning About Exclusion. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 6 (1), 32-36.
3. Bolling, D., Pitskel N., Deen, B., Crowley, M., Mayes, L. & Pelphrey, K. (2011). Development of neural systems for processing social exclusion from childhood to adolescence. Developmental Science, 14 (6), 1431-1444.
4. DeWall, C., Deckman, T., Pond, R. & Bonser, I. (2011) Belongingness as a Core Personality Trait: How Social Exclusion Influences Social Functioning and Personality Expression. Journal of Personality, 79 (6), 979-1012.
5. Edith Cowan University (2009). Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study, CHPRC http://deewr.gov.au/bullying-research-projects
Updated: Conference details, pictures, and link to the article. Come and join Quirky Kid and Psychologist Belinda Jones, at the 2012 Educational and Developmental Psychology Conference for a great preview our new program Power Up! Yes, we are thrilled that our program was accepted as a paper presentation for the 2012 conference.
We were welcomed by a fantastic crowd during the conference. Belinda presented the many aspects of performance psychology for your people, drawing on great examples relating to achieving peak performance. We enjoyed answering questions from other delegates at the ACER stand.
The best news has come from Gymnastic Australia that has now confirmed Power Up as their program of choice for young performers. We will provide more information about this great development soon.
If you have any questions about Power Up! please contact us on 02 9362 9297 to arrange a demonstration.
Gifted and talented students are those with exceptional abilities and qualities in areas such as academics, culture, leadership, arts, creativity, and sport. Gifted and talented children are found in every cultural, social, ethnic and socioeconomic group. However, it is relatively uncommon, and is recognized only in children whose IQ is at or above 130. Exceptionally gifted students, usually have pronounced talents in one specific field of interest – for example, music or mathematics – and are even less common.
Due to a gifted child’s rapidly developing cognitive abilities, often there is a large difference between their chronological age, intellectual maturity, and emotional maturity, causing some gifted children to experience an intensity or sensitivity of feelings and emotions.
This sensitivity or intensity of emotions may be displayed in a range of behaviours which may leave the gifted child open to teasing and social isolation at school.
Identifying a Gifted Child
Gifted children often display some of the following traits.
Fluent and flexible thinking
Excellent problem solving skills
Learns quickly and with less practice and repetition
How can I help my gifted child make the most of his abilities?
Communicate with your child’s teachers. Ask about what accommodations can be provided for your child to help keep him stimulated and learning at a challenging pace. You may also want to ask about accelerated or advanced classes, or special programs for the Gifted and Talented.
Provide learning opportunities for your child outside the classroom. Gifted children excel when they are given the chance to keep learning and developing their talents. He may excel in academically-themed camps, weekend classes in drama, music, languages, sports, or writing.
Trips to museums, science centres, and other cultural events may also be fun and a great way to bond with your child. The University of NSW (UNSW) offers school holiday programs for Gifted and Talented students through GERRIC. Programs like ‘The Power Up!’ program by Quirky Kid are also a great idea.
Introduce your child to other gifted or talented children. Research shows that gifted children experience less stress and negative emotions when they have the opportunity to discuss their social and emotional concerns with others of high ability. A Gifted and Talented program, either as part of school curricula or as an extracurricular pursuit, can help your child meet and interact with other gifted students.
Affirm your child as a whole being, not just as a ‘high achiever’. Qualities such as kindness, tolerance, and fairness – not just intelligence or achievement – are important. Recognition as a ‘all-rounder’ will help reduce the pressure many gifted children feel.
Talk to an experienced Psychologist. Gifted and talented children are often at risk of serious under achievement, social isolation, poor concentration and mood swings associated with frustration. Psychological intervention can assist with motivation, organizational skills, social issues and study schedules and many other related concerns.
Recommendations for teachers and parents
Gifted students love the idea of learning something new and they will enjoy being provided with additional, more challenging work. By accelerating a gifted child’s work, grades or by attending opportunity classes, it will help feed the child’s need to learn and help to keep their behaviour under control.
Gifted students should be provided with opportunities to socialise with peers of similar abilities. This may be possible by attending a selective High School, or participating in Gifted and Talented programs.
Gifted children may benefit from being provided with independent study or research projects, particularly in their area of interest.
Extra curricular activities, such as drama, music, languages, sports, gymnastics, dancing, or creative writing, should be encouraged.
Highly gifted children are often at risk of serious under achievement, social isolation, concentration or behavioural symptoms and may benefit from receiving counselling.
What are the challenges associated with giftedness?
While giftedness is generally considered an asset, many gifted children experience challenges that their non-gifted peers will not.Due to a gifted child’s advanced cognitive abilities, they may find it difficult to relate to, and from satisfying bonds with other children in their peer group. This can lead to social isolation from same-aged peers, identification with adult or elder peers and frustration in class.Gifted children process information more rapidly than others in their age group, which can make them highly sensitive to their environments. This sensitivity can lead to moodiness, irritability, or anxiousness in gifted children.Giftedness is often associated with perfectionism, which can lead to procrastination and, paradoxically, under achievement in school.
Quirky Kid published a range a resources to support the emotional and social development of children and adolescents. Parents can greatly benefit from some of this resources available on the Quirky Kid Shoppe. Below you can see the Face it cards, The Just like when cards and the Likes of youth
The Quirky Kid Clinic offers a range of services to assist gifted children. Please contact us to make an appointment or visit our assessment page for further assessment information.
Purchasing Power up
This article was also published at the Essential Kids Website. First posted on October 2011. Revised September 2012
Information for this fact sheet was taken from an interview with Child Psychologist Kimberley O’Brien, and the following article.
Dabrowski, K., & Piechowski, M. M. (1977). Theory of levels of emotional development. Oceanside, NY: Dabor.
Kimberley O’Brien, our principal child psychologist, and Quirky Kid are proud to be invited to present during the 2012 Educador Congress.
The congress is the largest education event in Latin America and will gather more than 100 speakers to discuss the issue “Family, Society and School: where do we want to go?” Our theme will be: Practical Strategies for social, emotional and behaviour issues for children and adolescents, or in Portuguese: ‘Estratégias Práticas para solução de problemas sociais, emocionais e comportamentais em crianças e adolescentes’.
The event Combines different issues related to the educational universe such as Teacher Education, Childhood Education and the Early Years, Learning Difficulties and Interdisciplinary Education, Bullying, Limits and others.
Quirky Kid publishing will also showcase our resources to the local industry including our newts program. Power Up:Using performance psychology to compete at your best.