Why is my child refusing to go to school? Could this be a sign of something bigger?

Most children have anxiety symptoms related to going to school sometime or another. When children first go to school they are often upset on the first few days (and that includes parents as well!) and this is pretty normal when children are little. However, as they get older many children still have anxiety about school like: that they will not be liked, worry about doing poorly, being bullied or ridiculed or that something bad might happen – but are not sure what that might be. Some children even worry that they might be hurt or that something will happen to their parents or care-givers.

This anxiety often start at night with an onset of anxiety symptoms like an upset tummy, vomiting, a rapid heart rate, shortness of breath or a headache, and often mimic a real sickness. Sometimes this can also happen on school mornings when kids might not want to get out of bed or want to sleep in (as they didn’t sleep well) and report feeling tired, appear to have low motivation or display signs of depression.

These symptoms of depression and anxiety can often lead to frustrations and conflict in the family home and can be really difficult to understand as the school refusal is often the end result of another issue. So just focussing on school attendance doesn’t help as it doesn’t identify nor address the underlying causative factors that are the reasons for the school refusal.

Some common reasons that result in school non-attendance:-

  • Serious illness for your child or within the family/friend circle
  • Grief
  • Family conflict
  • Unsettled home environment
  • School based problems; stress of workload, learning or development difficulties, harassment and bullying
  • Mental Health problems; depression and anxiety disorders ie. separation anxiety disorder and panic attacks

However, the complex nature of school non-attendance is really difficult to manage and often neither quick and simple solution, nor a ‘one size fits all’ approach will help.

Furthermore, returning to school after an extended absence can also be difficult as other children will ask about where your child has been, and this can be embarrassing to explain, and may be another reason for your child to stay home with this type of pattern becoming cyclic and hard to break.

If you find that your child is struggling to be motivated to go to school or is refusing to attend it is widely recognised that these issues are best managed by an early intervention approach and by working together with your school.

At Attuned Psychology we have Psychologists that can work with you and your child to identify and plan an approach to assist in managing school refusal and help your child manage a transition back to school. We offer therapy in identifying the triggers related to the school refusal and can implement an intervention specifically designed and tailored to manage your child’s unique needs.

John Pertl, Psychologist


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