What to do when your child refuses to go to school
Ask for help
If schools and parents wait too long before addressing it, the behaviour becomes more embedded and becomes a stuck pattern. Every day missed can damage academic achievement. Higher absences are linked to early school dropouts, lessened abilities with social adjustment and behavioural and emotional difficulties. Respond quickly, use your support network and get professional help, if required.
The family and school should be co-operating to make school-going a good experience for the child, who may be having problems with peers or set work. Don’t use punishment or rewards. Feedback from the school will help you to keep an eye on your child’s progress and where extra support is needed.
Try easing your child back
Returning to school may involve shorter periods of an increasing amount of time. Tell the teacher your child said that she didn’t want to go to school and ask if they can help to find out why.
Once you’ve ascertained what the problem is and that it’s not physical or visual, or related to a learning disability, you can come up with a strategy.
This could include:
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to assist the child to become more relaxed, deal with anxiety and help with facing fears.
Parents may become involved in therapy to discuss the most effective support strategies – the school will need to be liaised with.
Intervention of any kind involves providing the necessary skills with which to deal with the stress of discomfort the child is experiencing.
With professional support, attendance at school can be improved, but the anxiety may take longer to deal with. The longer a child stays away, the harder it is to get them to return. Choose a solution, and put it into motion.
Consider possible triggers
Do some investigations. When you ask why your child doesn’t want to go to school, it helps you to understand what’s going on. Your child may be trying to avoid feeling bad – something at school may be causing anxiety or depression, so you need to find out what it is. Choose a time when you and your child are both calm.
Use a kind, but firm approach. Talk to your child, but don’t lecture. Don’t lose your temper, even if you’re frustrated, and have an open mind. Use kindness as your child is already feeling distressed. Hear your child out, use physical affection. By encouraging your child to confront fears, you are encouraging independence and confidence.
If your child avoids whatever it is that’s triggering anxiety, long-term anxiety will be increased. Make it clear that you are prepared to help, but that school is not optional. Ask the school to suggest suitable channels, and make appointments with the school counsellor.
The next steps may involve a change of school or distance education. A school refusal may mean that perhaps the environment is not suitable for your child. You’ll need support communication and problem solving skills to find a solution that works for both of you.