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School Refusal

It can be one of a parent’s worst nightmares—your child just says “no” to attending school, and nothing you say or do seems to help. School refusal is more common than most people realize, and it is not unusual to receive little support in your struggle. “Why can’t you just get them to go,” is what those who do not realize the complexities and severity of this problem often say. Parents can certainly feel embarrassed, angry, or just plain overwhelmed by school refusal. So what is a parent to do? Try and use logic, threats, or bribes? You may have tried these options already, and it is very likely that they have not worked, or just provided a quick fix that did not last. So what to do next, just act helpless? Let the child call the shots and derail their education, maybe permanently? That will not help and may even exacerbate the situation! Force the child, kicking and screaming, to go school and stand post so that they cannot leave?

Dealing effectively with school refusal is far easier said than done for most parents. Often, children with this difficulty are dealing with some kind of fear. At times, it can be related to an event that happened in school, or something they are afraid could happen in the future. The fear is often irrational and causes them to experience anxiety symptoms when they go to school. Other times, they are concerned about leaving their parents, thus causing the child to become overwhelmed with fear when they realize they will be “stuck” in school all day. Whatever the case may be, however, making a child go to school despite their often very persuasive “objections” will usually mean that parents will have to overcome their own natural reactions to a child who seems terrified, or gets angry, or makes guilt creating comments about what an uncaring or bad parent they have—or at different times desperately tries all of these strategies!

Fortunately, proper assessment and treatment of School Refusal can turn this potential nightmare into a manageable problem, or in some cases, eliminate it altogether.

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