This is a 3- Part Series on School Refusal
School refusal behavior is typically a reflection of some underlying internal issue that has been bubbling for some time. Since we can’t “see” mental health struggles, we have to look for signs of anxiety, OCD, mood issues, and other common internalized conditions.
Kids can do really well at school because of a desire to please, fit in with peers, and their responsiveness to the routine and structure of a typical school day. Unfortunately, when internalized issues hijack the brain and get the brain stuck in “freeze” mode, our kids are shut down, avoidant and afraid.
That means that their brain isn’t calm and their thinking is offline because their frontal lobes are shut down. When our frontal lobes aren’t working, our executive functioning, or our ability to prioritize or plan for a future event, isn’t working either.
When you aren’t thinking about what is coming next a variety of issues can result, including low motivation, fearful thoughts, anxious sensations, and over-reliant behaviors on adults around you.
Your anxious, fearful and maybe even angry child just isn’t going to hear what you are saying, which makes conversations frustrating and sometimes heated. So what do you say to your child or teen who won’t go to school and how can you help a child calm their brain?
This is a stressful time for you and your child, so what you say and how you say it can help your child, or it can contribute to the stress. Always remember that your child or teen isn’t doing this on purpose, so staying positive and reinforcing those micro-steps with an emphasis on coping strategies is the optimal way to communicate with your child.
I know you feel overwhelmed and really ill equipped to manage this… so are most therapists. That is why you need the right strategies to address school refusal behaviors and the right words to say.
Working on not just ways to help your child calm and regulate their emotions but also doing the same yourself will help the family get through this difficult time more easily.
If your child isn’t in a calm brain state, then physiologically, their brain isn’t going to let them think, pay attention or take action in typical ways. When their brain is fear hijacked, then that means it is stuck in a “rev state.”
This nervous system's stressed sympathetic dominant state sends your brain and body’s resources into war mode and doing routine tasks like hopping on the school bus may seem like a mountain as a result. It is like trying to clean the dishes after almost getting run over by a bus; it just isn’t going to happen because your nervous system is so jacked up.
You have to get the brain in a calm, parasympathetic state in order for a child to be able to process information and really get to the bottom of what is going on in order to move forward.
Neurofeedback is a science-backed way to calm the brain that has been used to treat a variety of stress, anxiety and mood related conditions for sixty years. It is a safe, natural and effective method to retrain a stressed brain into a calm, regulated state through the operant conditioning of the brain.
Over a series of sessions, a person trains dysregulated brain waves that are either over or under active to be regulated through a process of measurement and reinforcement from a computer. The process is easy, pleasant and can be done with just about a person of any age, as well as helps to make the brain feel calm and focused.
For a child who is so shut down that they can’t put one foot in front of the other and get to school, neurofeedback is a way to help your child get back to their old selves and hopefully get back to school too.
In our BrainBehaviorReset™ Program we help families who are in a school refusal crisis calm the brain with neurofeedback paired with psychotherapy or parent coaching. Whether or not the underlying issue is an increasingly common mental health issue such as attention problems, anxiety, social anxiety, depression, OCD, or PANS/PANDAS, or a more sudden problem related to stress from the pandemic, bullying or a recent change or loss, neurofeedback works at the subconscious level.
With neurofeedback, we are reinforcing the subconscious brain to learn a new brain wave pattern and it can do that easily. Within two to three seconds from your first session, your brain can produce a healthy brain wave pattern. It will take a number of sessions, typically two or three a week over four to six months, the brain will sustain those changes over time.
When the brain is calm and regulated with neurofeedback, kids whose brain is “frozen” and they are stuck behaviorally, they can begin to process information and think more clearly. Then the therapeutic cognitive behavioral work they do can actually be meaningful because they aren’t so stress and fear hijacked.
In my Connecticut neurofeedback center, where we work with kids locally and all over the world, my experience has been that kids enjoy doing neurofeedback and just like the research notes, most treatment compliant individuals experience significant symptom reduction.
In our BrainBehaviorReset™ Program, we help families who are in a school refusal crisis get unstuck and bring back calm to families by combining the best of what is proven to work in calming the brain with coaching that addresses avoidant behavior and broken down communication. We know that kids and their families need a lot of guidance to get through this trying time an we have the resources to do just that.
Inglés, C. J., Gonzálvez-Maciá, C., García-Fernández, J. M., Vicent, M., & Martínez-Monteagudo, M. C. (2015). Current status of research on school refusal. European Journal of Education and Psychology, 8(1), 37–52. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejeps.2015.10.005
Markiewcz R. (2017). The use of EEG Biofeedback/Neurofeedback in psychiatric rehabilitation. Zastosowanie EEG Biofeedback/Neurofeedback w rehabilitacji psychiatrycznej. Psychiatria polska, 51(6), 1095–1106. https://doi.org/10.12740/PP/68919
Micoulaud-Franchi, J. A., Jeunet, C., Pelissolo, A., & Ros, T. (2021). EEG Neurofeedback for Anxiety Disorders and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders: A Blueprint for a Promising Brain-Based Therapy. Current psychiatry reports, 23(12), 84. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-021-01299-9
Neurofeedback and Biofeedback for Mood and Anxiety Disorders: A Review of the Clinical Evidence and Guidelines – An Update. (2014). Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health.
Always remember… “Calm Brain, Happy Family™”
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime. *The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment vary by patient and condition. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC does not guarantee certain results.
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Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of media outlets including, CBS, NBC, FOX News, PIX11 NYC, The New York Times, The Washington Post,, Business Insider, USA Today, CNET, Marth Stewart, and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.”
She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach. She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).
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