How to deal with School Refusal and School Avoidance

school refusal

School avoidance refers to when a child wants to go to school but feels unable to do so, while school refusal is when a child or young person is able to go to school but simply doesn’t want to do so.

Schools are back and parents and children alike are getting used to the new routine. The days are a mix of classroom work, schoolyard fun, activities, sports and even the odd playdate or two. But what if your child is refusing to go to school or won’t stay in school for the entire day?

The terms ‘school refusal’ and ‘school avoidance’ have been used somewhat interchangeably to describe this not uncommon phenomenon but they are different.

Children may try to avoid school at any age but it most typically occurs in those between five and seven years of age and those between 11 and 14 years of age.

Parents of children from the age of six to 16 must ensure that they attend a recognised school or receive a certain minimum education.

School Refusal

However, school life may be too much for some children and they are struggling to cope. Their refusal to go to school is an attempt to control their own environment.

They may get upset every morning at the thought of going to school, which can result in them missing large parts of the academic year, which can bring a whole new set of problems.

The number of children not going to school has increased over the last couple of years, and experts say that mental health and anxiety problems were exacerbated due to the pandemic.

This emotional distress may manifest itself in fear and panic at the thought of going to school, and so they try to avoid it. 

Signs of School Anxiety

  • Not wanting to get up and get ready for school

  • Worrying a lot about small issues

  • Ignoring homework

  • Avoidance of school-related situations and people

  • Acting out or withdrawing

  • Disturbed sleep

Some children may not be sleeping well due to anxiety about going to school. This can exacerbate the situation as they may have little energy and so find it hard to motivate themselves to go to class.

How can parents help?

It is understandable that parents would get worried when their child refuses to go to school or tries to avoid it, but a big row or standoff resulting in a child getting upset at the school gate or being dragged into school is not the answer.

  • Don’t increase the pressure on your child as this will only exacerbate the problem.

  • Focus on listening to your child and providing emotional support. Find out what are their triggers for school avoidance. Let them know what you can work together to improve the situation and help them feel better.

  • It may seem to you that what your child is worried about is minor or unimportant but it is essential to listen to them, hear their concerns, validate them and show that you care.

  • It’s important to have open and honest communication with your child’s school. Remember that you’re not alone when it comes to tackling this issue. Letting them know why your child is avoiding or refusing school will guide them in offering support and coping strategies to tackle the underlying issue.  

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