School Refusal
School refusal is an issue that can affect children and adolescents at any age and the source of the refusal differs between cases. Unfortunately, school refusal can cause a high degree of distress for parents and children. Parents hate seeing their child so upset and feel torn about making them go to school. And children struggle because they know they have to go to school, but find it almost unbearable.
School refusal can also interfere with learning as your child may be overwhelmed when they finally do enter school or they may miss days of school depending on the level of severity. Dealing with issues of school refusal can help turn school from a dreaded place to an environment your child is excited to enter.
One of the most common reasons for school refusal is anxiety. This could be anxiety about being around peers, being in an unfamiliar or challenging setting, or being away from a caregiver. This is often the cause in younger children and might be expressed by crying, complaining about physical symptoms (e.g., upset stomach, headache), pleading with caregivers not to go, and using physical force to avoid school (e.g., kicking, needing to be carried into the building).
However, older children may also show a resistance to attending school due to academic anxiety. As academic pressures increase, many students begin to think of school as a high-pressure environment. Look for patterns in your child’s behavior. Do they always want to skip on a particular day? Do they try and resist going to school only when they have test? This can help you determine the cause if your child is unable to verbalize it.
It is also important in any school refusal situation to assess for other specific causes, especially if this has been an abrupt change in your child’s behavior. Perhaps they are feeling bullied by peers or uncomfortable around a certain instructor. Opening dialogue around these issues is crucial.
At times, school refusal is an oppositional behavior and rooted in a child’s desire for control. This is not usually the cause, although the child’s behavior may look like it is. It is helpful to determine if the child is gaining anything from missing school. This might be extra attention (even negative attention can be reinforcing), avoidance of academic assignments, or the opportunity to engage in more desirable behaviors (e.g., watching TV while home from school).
School refusal is a very treatable issue and therapy works well in most of the situations described above. It is a relatively brief treatment and tend to be very effective in both the short- and long-term. Behavioral therapy is the leading treatment for school refusal. Depending on the cause of school refusal, the interventions may look different. Working with a psychologist can ensure that your child gets back on track and begins to build a positive relationship with school.
If you have questions about school refusal or would like to schedule an appointment, please call us at 612-470-4099 or email us at