Quick tips to cope with school refusal
- Quick tip 1Interrupt the “what if” cycle.Interrupt the “what if” cycle.
Talk about what kids are stuck on and the difference between “what if” and “what is.” For example, a child might say, “What if everybody in class is mean to me?” You can say, “What we do know is that two friends from last year are in your class.”
- Quick tip 2Find out what’s worrying them.Find out what’s worrying them.
Is there anything about today in particular that’s causing stress? Some kids refuse to go to school on certain days or to do certain kinds of work. Or they may be anxious about a change in routine or worried about something going on at home.
- Quick tip 3Be patient and clear.Be patient and clear.
Use short and concrete sentences to manage the moment. For example, “You’re safe, and I’m here to help. We’ll find a way to make school OK.”
- Quick tip 4Manage your expectations.Manage your expectations.
Going to school isn’t optional. But things like going in pajamas might be. You may need to make decisions like: Is it more important for them to participate in school or to get dressed?
As many as 1 in 4 kids show signs of school refusal at some point. They won’t go to school, whether it’s outside of the house or at home. And they won’t budge about doing schoolwork at all.
Unlike with kids who are complaining or avoiding schoolwork, you can’t talk them into doing it. They may literally make themselves sick over it. Kids may be clingy, complain of stomachaches or headaches, and fall apart when it’s time to do schoolwork. You might also notice that kids:
- Worry about school during downtime or on weekends
- Have frequent tantrums or meltdowns about going to school or doing schoolwork
- “Fight” morning routines so much that it gets in the way of other people’s schedules
True school refusal isn’t temporary. It’s an ongoing situation that’s often related to anxiety. It’s not just complaining about or avoiding work. Kids are so stressed and overwhelmed that refusing school is the only option.
If your child is refusing school, remember that you’re not alone. And know that there are things you can do to help your child cope.