When Children Refuse to Attend School

The term “school refusal” was formerly synonymous with truancy, conjuring images of children loitering on street corners or playing video games in their dormitories.

While it is true that some game-playing may be involved, it is essential to note that school refusal is not the same as skipping class. It is motivated not by the appeal of having pleasure outside of school but by an aversion to school.

Problematic patterns

Everyone occasionally resists going to school, but school refusal behavior is an extreme pattern of avoiding school that causes significant problems for the child. Several distinguishing characteristics differentiate school refusal from typical avoidance:

  • How long has a minor avoided attending school?
  • How much anxiety do they associate with school attendance
  • How tenaciously they resist
  • How much their resistance is interfering with their life (and the life of their family)

Even if a child attends school on the majority of school days, they may still experience school refusal. I’ve worked with children who have missed only one or two days of school but have been 30 times late because their anxiety prevents them from arriving on time. Children with school refusal may also have the habit of departing school early, spending a great deal of time at the school nurse’s office, or texting their parents throughout the day.

Suspicious Sick Days

Children with school refusal frequently report unexplained symptoms, such as migraines or stomachaches. In addition, anxiety manifests itself physically, so their symptoms may indicate this. In this situation, the first thing you as a parent should do is have your infant examined by a pediatrician; you do not want to overlook a medical issue. However, it is possible that attending school is their concern.

Occasionally, reluctance to attend school is a minor blip on the radar that can be readily remedied. Perhaps your child had the illness and was out of school for a significant amount of time; they are now having trouble readjusting to school. They are suddenly becoming possessive and anxious about the homework they neglected.

In this situation, it is essential to minimize time spent at home. Instead, you wish to have a conversation with your child’s instructor. You want to be capable of telling them, “We’ve informed your teacher that you were absent due to illness. I am aware of your concern, but he understands. It is time to return to class.” Then they return to school, where things are frequently relatively straightforward.

Similarly, some school-aged children experience anxiety blips after summer vacation. The primary objective is to enroll children in school as soon as feasible.

Understanding The Problem

For more severe cases of school refusal, the initial step in treatment is to obtain a thorough diagnostic evaluation. Although school refusal is not a diagnosable disorder, it frequently occurs alongside separation anxiety, social anxiety, melancholy, and panic disorder. Therefore, a thorough review enables treatment professionals to determine the underlying causes of your child’s school refusal, allowing them to tailor therapy to their needs.

Listen Up

There is also the possibility that something specific is occurring at school, such as bullying or a challenging subject. This does not imply that you should promptly ask your child who refuses to attend school, “Who’s bullying you?” But it is essential to be aware of your child’s current circumstances. You should anticipate hearing about their teacher and assignment progress. It would help if you also were mindful of the children your child associates with. All of these topics should be discussed in ordinary conversation. And if your child mentions something that happened that day, stop what you’re doing, perk up your hearing, and listen without judgment, because it may be significant.

Reaching Out

Treatment providers for children with school refusal frequently employ cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches children to manage their anxious thoughts and confront their fears. Although anxious children may disagree, the best method to overcome anxiety is to become more accustomed to feeling anxious. Children need the opportunity to see that they can attend education and that their worst fears will not be realized. Exposure therapy, which progressively reintroduces children to the school environment, is highly effective. In the initial stages of treatment, this may involve driving by the school or strolling its empty halls on the weekend. From there, children can progress to attending one or two courses and, ultimately, a full day by the end of treatment.

Being proactive and identifying school refusal as soon as possible is preferable. Unfortunately, the longer a child is absent from school, the more difficult it is for them to return to the routine, as skipping is highly reinforcing. 

Families I’ve worked with have described preparing for school as a battle with tantrums. Sometimes the morning is so complicated and tiring that the parents give up and say, “Fine, stay home; I’ll go pick up your homework.” It is a very understandable situation, but again, allowing it to persist delays the return of children to school by one day. Parents must understand that the sooner their child returns to school, the better and that seeking assistance is a crucial first step.


“Saral hu Saadharn nhi” (Simplicity is not Ordinary). This phrase encapsulates her entire existence. A woman of few words, a daydreamer, who is certain that there is life beyond stars. An HR professional who began her writing journey when corona knocked on our doors. A Content Writer, Screenplay Writer, and published Author. She is die-hard romantic and that reflects in her quotes, poems and short stories and currently working on her first book. She enjoys cooking, dancing, singing, travelling, and is a huge Bollywood enthusiast. She is a wife, a mother and a friend you can most certainly rely on.

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