Emotionally Based School Avoidance
What is Emotionally Based School Avoidance?
Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA) is a term used to describe difficulties a child or young person may have with attending and being fully involved with all aspects of school. You may have heard of terms such as school refusal, we tend to use the term Emotionally Based School Avoidance now instead, as this term recognizes that the difficulty attending school is driven by emotional or mental health difficulties. Therefore, it is important to note that EBSA is not simply bad behavior, laziness or a lack of motivation. All the children that I have worked with that have experienced EBSA desperately want to be in school and learning with their friends.
What does Emotionally Based School Avoidance look like?
EBSA presents in different ways for different children and can present differently over time for the same child. It might include some of the following:
- Reluctance to go to school and frequent requests to stay at home.
- Reluctance to go to certain lessons, spaces or places within school.
- Difficulty staying at school for the whole day.
- Frequent illnesses such as headaches or stomach aches that result in the child coming home early from school.
- Feelings of anxiety about school.
Why does Emotionally Based School Avoidance happen?
There is no one single cause, it is often the result of a combination of several different factors, such as: a high-pressure school environment with an emphasis on academic achievement, perfectionism, anxiety, bullying, low self-esteem and a family history of difficulties at school.
How to overcome Emotionally Based School Avoidance
The most important thing to say is that things will get better, with the right help and support you can improve your child or young person’s experience of and feelings about school.
Here are my top tips for approaching EBSA:
- Talk to your child or young person, try to do this at a time not associated with school i.e., not during pick up or drop off. Try to ask gentle and curious questions to help you find out what is going on. Some examples might be ‘it seems like going to school has been making you feel a bit anxious recently, do you know what it is about school that is making you feel anxious?’ ‘you told me that you have stopped wanting to do PE, why is that? ‘I noticed that you always get a headache when you have a test coming up, are you finding preparing for the tests stressful’?
- Talk to your child or young person’s school to come up with a plan – what are they struggling with? How can this be made to feel easier or more accessible for them? What is working well? How can you play to and maximize their strengths and what is currently working well at school? Make sure you involve the child or young person in this plan. The key to overcoming EBSA is developing a plan that the child or young person is on board with, feels manageable for them and helps build their levels of confidence and comfort at being in school.
- If things are still feeling difficult for your child or young person, then do seek professional help and support.
Written by: Dr Charlotte Cousins