Reasons Why Your Child May be Refusing to Attend School
Transitioning back to school after the summer break can be challenging for families, as some parents may be faced with their students refusing to return or even stay at school due to emotional stressors.
Recognizing common warning signs and responding quickly is crucial as the student continues to miss school. Not only can they fall behind academically, but returning can feel harder and they may feel socially disconnected from classmates and teachers.
Some of these warning signs include:
- Frequent unexcused absences or not getting to school on time
- Absences on significant days (tests, speeches, physical education class)
- Frequent requests to go to the nurse’s office despite no apparent signs of illness
- Frequent requests to call home or go home during the day
- Major family event/trauma, sleep difficulties, difficulty concentrating, depressed mood, or irritability
- Difficulty or resistance to getting out of bed in the morning to go to school despite no apparent signs of illness
- Physical symptoms of anxiety such as headaches, stomach aches, and fatigue make it difficult for the student to get off in the morning, or symptoms at school may have the student feeling the need to cut the day short.
So, what can a parent do if their student continues this behavior of school refusal?
- Help identify the reasons why your child is avoiding school. Get on your child’s level and gently ask questions such as, “what is making school feel so hard?” Is your child concerned about their academic performance, are there social needs or bullying happening?
- Act quickly and ask for help: Together with your student or privately, share with your child’s teacher, counselor or IEP team about what is going on with your child. The more information they know, the more they can help identify necessary supports to help your student.
- Document everything: By documenting what is going on with your child, it will help you and your school team look for patterns or needs that otherwise would not be as evident in an isolated incident. Write down what your student is telling you. Use a calendar to document your notes as this will help you see just exactly how frequently the behavior is occurring and where it might be taking place (specific class, lunchroom, recess, etc.)
- Consider asking for further evaluations from the school: If your child is currently on a behavior plan at school to support anxiety, frustration or other behavior needs, it might be time to revisit the behavior plan and discuss additional supports. If your child does not have a behavior plan and their attendance is impeding their ability to be successful at or in school, discuss with your school principal or counselor about evaluation options. These options can include a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA), MTSS support, evaluation for special education or Section 504 evaluation.
- Encourage your student’s school attendance. Make your home environment a teaching environment when the student is not at school. Discourage screen time (tv, video games, etc) until after school hours and request school assignments to be worked on at home during the day. Allowing your child or teen to avoid stressful circumstances at school may give immediate short-term relief, however, the cycle of avoidance may continue without addressing the reason for avoidance in the first place.