01 Jan What is School Refusal
School refusal can look like spontaneous tummy aches the night before school, struggles to separate in the car line, or voicemails from the school wanting to talk about your teenager’s attendance. Some degree of school refusal is typical for children. The first few weeks of kindergarten can be full of tears and difficulty saying goodbye (for both the kids and parents). Some kids have difficulty transitioning back to the school schedule after vacation or an illness. Some kids may want to stay in bed the morning of the End of Grade tests. Kids can have strong aversion to school but still attend most days. For example, they may have several tardiness due to the struggle to get them out the door. Kids may also spend a lot of time in the nurse’s office due to tummy aches, that may be stemming from anxiety.
According to Childmind.org, when deciding whether school refusal is beyond what is typical, we look at how long a child has been avoiding school, how much distress is associated with school, how strongly they resist it, and the impact on the child and/or family’s life. When you notice that your child’s school refusal appears to be more than a blimp, becoming a pattern for several weeks is is time to reach out for support.
What should I do when my kid refuses to go to school?
Reach out to supports at your child’s school. Your school counselor is a great resource. They can offer you parenting tips, support your child in the morning transition to school, and provide a safe place for your child to talk about the feelings about school. If part of your child’s discomfort with school is having difficulty making friends, they can place your child in a social skills group.
Seek assistance from a mental health professional. To begin with, this will help you identify the root of your child’s school refusal. Some reasons that kids refuse to go to school include separation anxiety, social anxiety, or a pattern of behavioral difficulties such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Therapists can provide evidenced based practices to assist your child manage their anxieties. (Click here to learn more about Behavioral Health support).
Listen. Make sure your child knows they can talk to you when they experience challenges at school. Make sure to validate his or her emotions and provide comfort prior to searching for solutions.
Review the after school schedule with your child. For separation anxiety, it can be soothing for children to know who will pick them up or when they will see you again.
Seek help early. The longer kids are out of school, the more difficult it is to get them into the rhythm of attending school and the more their anxiety increases.
School refusal can be a frustrating behavior for parents to deal with but supports are available.
Kelly Jean Tucker, MA, LPCA
Thanks to Child Mind, for resources and content.