When a child won’t go to school, many parents battle with feelings of guilt, frustration, and disappointment. A solid education is a foundation for a child’s future career. Failing classes and possibly dropping out of school could jeopardize this. It’s no wonder so many parents worry about what to do.
But don’t worry. It’s not always the end of the world and you won’t (necessarily) be babysitting your child for life. Here are a few remedies that parents should consider.
1. Identify the Underlying Cause
Adolescent psychologist Dr. Virginia Boga tells Parentology, “I do believe the most important thing is to first identify the reason that led to not wanting to go to school. The approach is different if the child is anxious, depressed, has a substance abuse problem, or has a developmental disorder that might not have been picked up on early on.”
She acknowledges that many parents are reluctant to accept that their children may have a disability or mental health problem. This can cause treatable conditions to remain unidentified and unresolved until the child is much older.
2. Be Firm, Not Forceful
“If a parent doesn’t understand why a child is refusing to go to school, the solution is never found in controlling or convincing,” Dr. Janyne A. McConnaughey, a retired educator who taught for 40 years, tells Parentology.
Lynn Burrell, MA, a school psychologist with more than 20 years of experience, agrees. She cautions parents against attempting to embarrass or threaten children in these instances. She also advises parents not to confuse school avoidance with truancy, as the latter is more about skipping school to engage in preferred activities.
3. Involve the School
“While you will be working at home on these issues, the second step is to contact your school,” Burrell says. “Parents should ask to meet with a counselor, school psychologist or an administrator to discuss your … concerns. If there is a situation that pertains to bullying, please try and address this with your school immediately. Work with the school to keep your child safe.”
Because school may be the source of the anxiety the child wishes to avoid, including the school in the resolution can prove helpful. Some schools may even have professionals at the ready to connect with the child throughout the day and assist with transitions and class selections.
4. Work with a Psychologist
Harvard Medical School warns parents to treat school avoidance as a serious problem, as it may worsen over time and rapidly. If a parent cannot determine why a child won’t go to school or believes it may involve bullying or mental health conditions, seek the assistance of a child or family psychologist.
According to Boga, a psychological assessment is a helpful tool for parents who struggle to tackle school avoidance on their own. A professional assessment helps to determine if there is an underlying diagnosis. In her experience, she finds that the younger the child is when wanting to skip school, the more likely it is that there is a mental health concern.
While school avoidance can become frustrating even for the most understanding parent, it’s not an impossible struggle. By spending more time on identifying the problem rather than punishing the child, parents are taking real steps to resolving the issue.
Child Won’t Go to School — Sources
Janyne A. McConnaughey, Ph.D., BRAVE: A personal Story of Healing Childhood Trauma
Virginia Boga, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist
Lynn Burrell, MA, Weldon
Harvard Medical School: School Refusal: When a Child Won’t Go to School