Returning to school after the holidays can be difficult for many students as they reestablish routines, gear up for the second half of the school year, and process any emotions or concerns that may have come up during the break.
While students of all ages can struggle with mental health challenges at any point during their K-12 journey, students of different ages typically have different challenges. Younger students might experience challenges such as separation anxiety or school refusal, which can make the return back to school especially tough. Older students more often struggle with a lack of motivation, social anxiety, or academic stress.
For all students, consistency is key. Returning to school requires reestablishing routines, reconnecting with peers, revisiting academic and personal goals, and readjusting to teachers' expectations.
This blog highlights some social-emotional struggles students might experience when returning to school after a long break and discusses how teletherapy helps support students.
The role of teletherapy in supporting students
Providing mental health support is one tool schools can adopt to help address chronic absenteeism and school refusal. Teletherapy helps students of all ages process emotions. It offers students a safe space to talk about their feelings and equips students with effective coping strategies to manage their emotions and stressors. With the help of a therapist, students identify and learn to work through the emotions that influence school refusal and chronic absenteeism.
Additionally, students might have experienced loneliness and isolation or faced family conflict over the holiday break. These emotions can be difficult for the student to process alone. Through conversations with their therapist, students can begin to understand their emotions, whether that be anxiety about being back in school or processing a traumatic family event that took place at home.
School refusal and chronic absenteeism
School refusal is an extreme pattern of avoiding school. A variety of factors cause school refusal. Some common causes include:
- Anxiety and fear about the school environment
- Social anxiety, difficulty making friends, social rejection, or bullying
- Academic challenges, learning disabilities, or too much academic pressure
- Problems at home, family dynamics
- Mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety disorder
- Traumatic events such as the loss of a loved one, abuse, or significant life changes
Periods of transition, such as returning to school after the holidays, can trigger school refusal. Some students avoid school by claiming to have headaches or stomach aches. Too many unexplained sick days might be a sign that a student is using excuses to get out of school or experiencing stress and anxiety.
Consistent, long-term refusal may lead to chronic absenteeism. Chronic absenteeism is a growing concern, affecting more than 20-30% of students. Students are chronically absent when they miss 15 or more school days during the school year.
Chronic absenteeism significantly challenges a student’s academic progress and overall well-being. It can lead to academic underachievement, gaps in learning, and difficulty maintaining healthy peer relationships. A student experiencing chronic absenteeism is more likely to drop out, which impacts their future educational and career opportunities. The negative impact of chronic absenteeism affects not only the individual student but also the family unit, school community and educational system.
While some students thrive in social settings, others may struggle with social anxiety. Students experiencing social anxiety may have a fear of judgment and might avoid group projects or activities. In severe cases, a student with social anxiety might experience physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate in social situations. Chronic social anxiety can lead to students avoiding school, hesitating to participate in classroom discussions, or, in severe cases, chronic absenteeism.
Teletherapy provides students with social anxiety a safe space to express their emotions, develop coping mechanisms and tools, and build their confidence. Therapists provide students with strategies to manage social situations comfortably.