My 10-year-old always enjoyed school but all of a sudden she is refusing to go. She has missed several days of school because of this and I don’t know what to do.
Lindsey Einhorn, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist, Parker Pediatrics and Adolescents
When one day away from school turns into two, turns into five, and so on, it’s natural to start to worry about what’s going on and how long this is going to last. Once a child misses a significant amount of school or falls behind, it becomes increasingly harder to return to school so figuring out what’s going on, and fast, is important.
Kids of all ages can exhibit school refusal behaviors although it shows up most commonly around ages five to six, 10 to 11, and when entering middle and high school. Boys and girls are equally affected. It’s most likely to happen at the beginning and end of school, the first day back following a school break, and on Mondays.
The first step is for you to try to get to the bottom of why your child is refusing to attend school. Common reasons include:
- Separation anxiety (difficulty being away from parents or caregivers)
- Social anxiety
- Performance and test anxiety
- Academic difficulties
- Defiance/behavioral issues
Depending on your child’s age and stage of development, they may be unable or unwilling to explain what’s behind their refusal to go to school. Be supportive in encouraging her to explain and let her know you”ll work with her to find a way to make going to school a positive experience. Kids going through these issues often feel alone and need to know people want to help.
The second step is to develop a plan to help support your child in returning to school. Work closely with your child, her teacher, and the school administrators/counselors. Generally, the plan will involve problem solving, equipping a child with coping skills, designating a safe/supportive place and person at school, creating a potential reward system, and gradual reintegration to school. If more assistance is needed, look to a psychologist or therapist.
Finally, remember to be patient and empathetic. When things get frustrating, remember that your child refusing to go to school is an indicator that she’s struggling in some capacity and needs everyone’s support.