What to Do When Your Child Refuses to Go to School

If your child refuses to go to school, these strategies can help.
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Most kids try to get out of going to school once in a while, but with a little coaxing or a firm reminder that staying home isn’t an option, they’ll go on their way. There are some kids, however, who outright refuse to go to school.

Dealing with a child who refuses to go to school can be extremely stressful. Letting your child stay home for the day - or a few days - will likely make the problem worse.

But figuring out how to get your child to school when he’s refusing to go isn’t an easy task. If your child is refusing to go to school, take steps to address the situation right away.

Problem-Solve with Your Child

Whether your child has always disliked school, or his refusal to go seems to be out of the blue, try to learn more about what’s going on. Problems like a bully on the bus, or trouble understanding math can cause kids lots of distress, but these types of problems can be easily solved with a little adult help.

Questions that start with “why,” such as, “Why don’t you want to go to school?” sound accusatory and aren’t likely to be helpful. Stick to questions like, “What would make it easier to go to school today?” and see if your child can brainstorm some suggestions.

Stay calm and make it clear that you really want your child to enjoy school. Show that you’re willing to help as much as you can to create an enjoyable experience for him.

Work together on solving the problem and see if you can develop a solution that helps your child feel more comfortable about school.

Seek Professional Help

If your child’s refusal to attend school isn’t an isolated incident, seek help from a mental health professional. An evaluation can assess possible underlying problems, like depression or anxiety, which are often at the root of school refusal.

A professional can also assist you in setting appropriate limits and consequences for your child. A therapist may advise you to take away privileges when your child refuses to go to school, for example.

If you aren’t sure where to get help, start by talking to your child’s pediatrician. A doctor can help determine what types of intervention may be best for your child.

Communicate the Problem with Your Child’s School

It’s important to keep an open line of communication with the school. Your child’s teacher may be able to offer insight into any issues that may be influencing your child’s school refusal.

Letting school officials know of the problem can also ensure they’ll keep a better eye out for potential problems - like bullies on the playground.

If your child has been tardy or absent due to his refusal to go to school, school administration needs to know what’s going on. Request a meeting and work together with the school on strategies that can reduce your child’s distress.

Create a Plan with the School

Work together with the school to create a plan that will reduce your child’s distress.

Sometimes, a few modifications may need to be made. A shorter school day, or extra help with classes, are just a few examples.

A little extra support from the staff at your child’s school can make a big difference. A pass to visit the guidance counselor at any time, or a special daily greeting from the school nurse, could also help your child feel less distressed.

Talk About the Positive Aspects of School

While it’s important to acknowledge the difficult parts about school, don’t focus on the negative. Rather than asking, “Did anyone pick on you today?” when he walks through the door, keep the focus on the positive aspects of school. Ask questions like, “What was the best part of your day today?” or “What did you do at recess?”

When you assist your child in acknowledging at least one or two good things about school, it’ll help him silence the negative thoughts like, “I hate everything about school.” When he starts thinking more positively, he’ll feel better about school and may be more motivated to attend.

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