School Refusal: Kids Don’t Want to Go to School

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

“My tummy and head hurts. I don’t think I can go to school. I should probably stay home with you”, plead the little boy to his mother. “Honey, I know you don’t feel good but you need to try to go”, replied his mother. “But my head hurts! It is just pounding! I can’t go to school!” shouted the boy. “Very well, let me go call the doctor”, replied his mother.

School refusal can come in many shapes and forms. It is known by a variety of names including absenteeism, truancy, and school phobia. While school refusal tends to be the focus of concern for most parents, there are typically underlying issues that are driving the behavior. Children who exhibit school refusal can be experiencing various forms of anxiety or depression. They can also be oppositional or have other medical conditions such as asthma.

Children can come up with a wide range of excuses of why they should not go to school. These range from being physically ill and too tired to complaining about teachers and being picked on by other children. Some of these excuses may be legitimate but avoiding school will not make them any better.

There are several options available for parents and caregivers who have a child who is refusing to go to school. The most important option is for parents to reach out to the school and let them know about the situation. Chronic absenteeism is a quick way to sour communications between home and school. As soon as there is a sense that school refusal is turning into an on-going issue, parents should have a meeting with school staff to discuss the situation and come up with a plan on how to intervene. At home, parents need to be sure they make their expectations clear regarding school attendance and morning behaviors.

If problems persist, a mental health counselor can be brought in to address underlying anxiety or depression issues of the child. The counselor can also work with the parents to help establish regular routines for the child and to find ways to solve problems and reduce conflicts.

The more a child is able to successfully get out of going to school by refusing to go, the tougher it will be for parents to reverse the behavior. Taking a firm stance early on and taking action will go a long way towards addressing the issue.

This article was published in the Richmond Register Health Beat Magazine in September 2013.

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