How to Help a Child Who Refuses to Do School
By Jeanette Lorandini
Many parents start a school day by hearing their child say, “I don’t want to go to school today!” The child hides under the covers or slams the door to their room closed. Or, they insist that they are too sick to go to school. Sound familiar?
Almost all parents have encountered these scenarios or something similar at least once. It’s relatively common for students at least once in their school career to refuse to leave in the morning.
But what happens if this becomes consistent? What if the tantrums get worse?
If this sounds familiar, there are things that you can to help your child if they refuse to go to school.
Be Patient and Listen
First, you must listen to your child and take their concerns seriously. Give them the chance to explain themselves and why they are refusing to go to school. Ask questions — but avoid leading them on.
Instead, keep your questions more general and open-ended. The idea is that you want to stay neutral and not feed into a narrative that they are creating for themselves.
Ask Yourself Similar Questions
Many children will not be 100% forthcoming with why they don’t want to go to school. However, there can be several legitimate reasons why they are acting this way. For example:
- Other children at school are bullying them
- One or more of their classes are challenging
- Your child feels socially isolated at school
They may also find school overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. However, a child isn’t likely going to be able to say that they feel anxious. Instead, it will come out in other ways, including physical symptoms.
That’s why it’s crucial to pay attention to what they are saying and doing. If they have physical symptoms, make sure to get them checked out by their physician to rule out physiological concerns.
Make a Plan
Returning to school will vary based on how long your child has been away and how severe their symptoms are. For instance, if one day they refuse to go to school, but the next they go, everything is most likely okay.
It’s when your child has been avoiding school for a long time is when things get tough. Some thoughts to consider when making the plan include:
- How to help your child feel comfortable and safe going to school again
- Ways to positively motivate them to go (rewards and encouragement)
- Who can be a part of their support system (teachers, the school counselor, even friends)
- Doing several “dry-runs” to prepare to return: going to the building after school hours to get used to the physical space again.
- Attending a couple of classes to start then build up to a full schedule
Maintain Consistent Boundaries at Home
You must hold firm and consistent boundaries with your child when you are at home. The expectation is that they go to school. You can be supportive and caring about their needs. However, ultimately they are still expected to go.
If they are still refusing, you can create structure at home to make it less desirable than attending school. For instance, cutting off the internet from their devices or shutting it down entirely. Just as you are expected to work, they are expected to go to school.
Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help
Long-term school refusal is frustrating. You know that school is essential for your child to succeed. Also, you have things that you need to accomplish, too! In these cases, it’s vital that you have professional support from a therapist who understands children’s anxiety.
They can provide feedback for your return-to-school plan. Also, a therapist can be a source of comfort and encouragement when dealing with frustration.
It’s not unusual for a child to refuse to go to school. However, if this becomes a consistent problem, you need to take it seriously. Try the tips above. But if the problem continues, ask for help. The therapists at Suffolk DBT are here to help you.
Click here to learn more about DBT for children.