If you have ever wondered, “What if my child won’t go to school?” and “Why?” two clinical psychologists and a retired teacher have some answers for you.
Don’t think it’s such a big deal? Think your child will simply grow out of it? Those things may be true, but school avoidance is a serious issue that can rapidly escalate if not dealt with properly. Parents need to react quickly and identify the reasons a child refuses to go to school, and then find a solution.
Below is a list of ten reasons why a child won’t go to school. If this increases your concern that there is a real issue, read our follow-up article, which offers more depth on the topic, and suggestions for what to do.
1. Feeling Unsafe at School
For 40 years, Dr. Janyne A. McConnaughey taught students from preschool up to graduate school. She tells Parentology that parents need to assess whether students feel safe at school. If not, this could be the result of bullying.
2. Difficulties at Home
McConnaughey explains, “Sometimes children from difficult home situations feel responsible for making sure everything is OK. This is sometimes the case when a parent is ill or during the process of a divorce.”
3. Unmet Emotional Needs
McConnaughey adds that sometimes school avoidance stems from emotional needs a child may have that remain unfulfilled. Each child has different needs and it may take time to learn how to meet them halfway.
4. Response to Trauma
McConnaughey notes that when children experience trauma, they may retreat to a safe space as a coping mechanism. Even children who otherwise share everything may suffer an incident so traumatizing that they choose not to disclose it.
5. Anxiety and Depression
Adolescent psychologist Dr. Virginia Boga identifies anxiety and depression as two of the main reasons that children may refuse to go to school. According to the CDC, 7.1% of children from 3 to 17 years old have received a diagnosis for anxiety and 3.2% for depression.
6. Childhood Social Phobia
According to Dr. Courtney Bolton, social phobia may also present a problem. This is a more specific form of anxiety that can make social situations feel unbearable. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, symptoms include muscle tension, nausea, and flushing.
7. Developmental Disorder
Boga believes that a development disorder could cause a child to dislike going to school. The World Health Organization estimates that autism affects one in 160 children worldwide. In America, the CDC estimates that 6.1 million minors from ages 2 to 17 have received a diagnosis for ADHD.
8. Substance Abuse
Boga cautions that substance abuse could be at the root of school avoidance in older children. According to the U.S. Office of Population Affairs, 16% of high school students had more than a few sips of alcohol before 13 years old. Also, 36% of students reported using marijuana in 2017.
9. Conflict with a Teacher
Both Bolton and McConnaughey agree that a difficult relationship with a teacher can cause a child to want to avoid school. If the teacher is particularly intimidating or previously had a close relationship with the child, this can make matters worse.
10. Separation Anxiety
Psychology Today estimates that 25% of children between 5 to 11 experience separation anxiety. They may feel it most strongly following the return from school after a long break.
The Bottom Line
There are many reasons a child may refuse to go to school. Once parents identify what the problems are, they can craft a solid plan to resolve the issue. Without first taking this step, any proposed solution is just a shot in the dark. Read more in our follow-up article.
My Child Won’t Go to School — Sources
Dr. Janyne A. McConnaughey, Ph.D.
Virginia Boga, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist
Courtney Bolton Ph.D., Weldon
CDC: Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health
Word Health Organization: Autism Spectrum Disorders
U.S. Office of Population Affairs: United States Adolescent Substance Abuse Facts
U.S. National Institutes of Health: Recent Findings in Social Phobia Among Children and Adolescents
Psychology Today: Understanding School Refusal