How to Handle School Refusal: Strategies For Parents

How often do you sit down on a Sunday night and quickly forget about your relaxing weekend as you think, and maybe sometimes even dread, Monday morning? That underlying feeling of anxiety and the lack of motivation is no different for our children. 

It can be easy to forget how hard school was for some of us and the anxiety it can ignite at times. Knowing there is a label for regularly refusing to go to school – school refusal – could be new to you as a parent. 

Not only can school refusal increase stress, but it can also have consequences on your child’s education. The good thing is, there are many school refusal strategies we can use to motivate, encourage and support our children.

What is school refusal?

The signs of school refusal can vary across children and households. When your child is demonstrating high levels of distress and a reluctance to go to school, this is known as school refusal. This can be an issue for both Primary and High School aged children. Some signs could include illness (real or imagined), trouble sleeping, and tantrums when going to school or talking about attending school.

As a parent, it can be very stressful and difficult to get to the bottom of what is causing the distress and reluctance to go to school as sometimes your child won’t even understand themselves, let alone want to communicate with you about it. I am now in my 40s and still distinctly remember going through this in Year 4. My mum took me to doctors and couldn’t figure out was going on. For me, it was issues with friends, but I was too busy blaming a feigned illness to even consider telling my parents what was really going on or consider they may understand what I was going through.

Three of the most common reasons your child may be exhibiting school refusal are –

  1. Relationships
  2. Academic Performance 
  3. Diagnosed and undiagnosed conditions such as school anxiety

The school environment could be triggering or magnifying each of these for your child. Working with the school and key leaders within your child’s school will always be the best place to start with strong communication and mutual understanding.

What are the signs to look out for?

COVID has interrupted school attendance and has decreased our children’s social connection while also increasing their feelings of stress and anxiety

There are lots of different ways that school refusal may come up with your child but some signs may include

  • Comments and anxiety about their teacher/s and their relationships with teachers.
  • Social isolation and withdrawal from activities from friends and family.
  • Looking for reasons to be late to school or class and finding reasons to visit the school nurse.
  • Complaining about feeling sick before or during school and is quickly resolved when home. This might include headaches, dizziness, an upset stomach, and feeling excessively tired.
  • Stress and anxiety about preparation for school.
  • Lots of sick and late days.
  • Sleeping issues and excessive tiredness.
  • Mood swings and irritability. 

What happens if your child refuses to go to school too often?

It is common for children to not want to go to school from time to time. Although, if your child’s school refusal is becoming more frequent and affecting their results or attendance records, it can make their underlying concerns more pronounced. 

As parents, we typically worry about our child’s future potential and academic progress being hindered, which is certainly one of the impacts of school refusal. Although school refusal may also impact their social development. Another thing to consider is that school attendance is mandatory for all Australian school-aged children, and there can be legal or financial implications for parents. 

Your child’s refusal to attend school may start to have implications for you such as having to take time off or reduce hours. School refusal can have an impact on your child’s mental health, but yours as well. If you feel that you are being impacted by this, here are some school centric mental health tips for parents and students.

School refusal strategies for parents

The good news is that there are ways you can help your child. The longer your child remains away from school, the harder it may be to return so it is important to look for ways to support and get support. 

Here are 4 strategies you can use as a parent to help your child overcome school refusal:  

1. Be led by your child. 

Most parents find that when you raise concerns with your child, they resist more. In order to combat this, work to be led by your child. Look for ways to build their confidence and sense of belonging surrounding school. Small steps are really important! Don’t make a big thing of a return to school, and instead follow their lead on what they can handle, especially for younger students. 

2. Make sure everyone is on the same page

It is crucial that your child’s entire support system is on the same page when your child is expressing school refusal. Talk to your school at the first sign, they are there to help. Your school and your child’s teacher may have great insight into what might be causing the issue and be able to put solutions in place. 

3. Be empathetic 

Our children are unique just like us. Be there for them and make sure to let them know that you understand how hard it is for them. Our children love hearing that we aren’t perfect and had trouble too. 

Some strategies to help show your child that you understand and want to help may be learning relaxation techniques or meditation together that can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety1. I love reading about real experiences such as Jayne Demsky who explains that “anxiety is just the symptom”. Ultimately, make sure you are talking to a professional who can help and support you as a parent.

4. Buddy up! 

It can be helpful to have a friend or member of your child’s school staff meet your child before the school day. For older students, you may want to encourage them to open up to an understanding friend and inform their friend’s parents about what is happening. 

School refusal tips for parents

For many children, having difficulties at school can add to their school anxiety and ultimately, school refusal. The best thing we can do as parents is be our child’s #1 supporter and advocate for what they need as individuals to succeed. 

Supporting and strengthening your child’s desire to learn can help build on their wanting to attend school. We call our A Team Tuition tutors Academic Personal Trainers and that is because tutoring is only the start of what we do. 

Our tutors are all trained to support 

  1. Mindset through mentoring
  2. Study Strategy through our metacognitive skill development program, STAR
  3. Support through subject specific tutoring methods

If you are looking for support to improve your child’s desire to learn and attend school, A Team Tuition is here to help. With our holistic tutoring program, we can help your child develop a love for learning with A Team Tuition’s in-home or online support. Find a tutor near you today!