How to deal with a child who won't go to school

Most children go through phases of not wanting to go to school but regularly refusing school or going to extremes to avoid attending can indicate a major issue.

Most children go through phases of not wanting to go to school but regularly refusing school or going to extremes to avoid attending can indicate a major issue. And if you do have trouble getting your child to go to school, take comfort in the fact that you're not alone. 
Does your child complain of a stomach-ache right before going to school? If your child stays home, do the symptoms vanish, only to reappear the next morning?
If so, your child may have what’s known as school refusal. Children with school refusal have a very difficult time getting to school and/or staying in school, usually due to some form of anxiety.
Here are some steps to take:
1. Check for physical causes
If your child is complaining of physical symptoms, have her checked by your GP. It's unlikely that anything is physically wrong with your child, but you don't want to make that assumption and later find out you're wrong. If your GP feels the anxiety is something that should perhaps be seen by a play therapist this is a good time to check their mental health as well as their physical.
2. Talk with your child
Talk about what's bothering them, while at the same time making it clear that a plan will be made to return to school. Keep in mind, though, that some children can't describe what is bothering them. Don't force conversation if it doesn't seem to be going anywhere. The most important message to convey is that you believe your child can conquer this problem, and you'll be there to help her through it. Remind your child they’re NOT alone in this and that you are there for them no matter what.
3. Don’t lecture
Avoid lengthy discussions and debates about the importance of going to school. Lecturing won't do any good, and it may actually make matters worse. Any attention, even negative attention, can reinforce and maintain a problem. 

4. Keep a journal
Look for patterns of when your child complains of a stomach-ache. Does he wake up with the stomach-ache? Does he complain of these things when he's busy and distracted? Does he have it on when he doesn’t have school? Be objective and play detective and keep a journal of when the stomach-aches are present. Look for any clues as to what is causing your child to want to avoid school.

5. Set up a meeting
Both parents should meet with the teacher and/or the school counsellor. This sends the message to the school that you're involved and committed to working on the problem.

6. Do not make it appealing to stay at home
Let your child know that if he's truly ill, he will need to see a doctor, stay in bed and rest, keep the TV off, and so on. Enforce rules about no TV or video games. If you stay home with your child, don't offer lots of extra attention and sympathy. It may sound cruel, but you don't want staying at home to be appealing.

7. Enlist support
Consider having someone else take your child to school until the situation is resolved. Because emotions are so charged during a time like this, it can be helpful to remove yourself from the job of having to force your child to go to school every morning. If there is a separation anxiety in relation to mum, for example, have dad take the child to school. Or have a friend or another family member be in charge of these transition times until the child has made a successful re-entry into school.

Although it's unsettling to see your child distressed about going to school, try to remain calm and supportive, but ultimately firm. Remember, your child needs to go to school – this is where children mature, not only intellectually but also socially and emotionally.
By following the above suggestions, there's every reason to believe that your child will overcome his school anxiety and, in the process, gain a newfound appreciation of his ability to hang in there and work through a tough situation.
Laura Doyle, mum of 4. Kyle 9, Noa Belle 4, Briar 2 and Milla 12 months. Breastfeeder, co-sleeper, coffee drinker. Staying positive and inspired inthe chaos of it all. Writer and blogger at

Laura Doyle

Mum of four, Gentle parent living on coffee and trying always to stay positive and motivate in the midst of the madness.

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