Dealing with school/childcare refusal

By ParentTV on 1 May 2019
Categories: Behaviour, Education

As adults, we all know what it is like to not want to go somewhere we have to go, or do something we have to do. It might be work, a social gathering or even simply doing the grocery shopping, that has us dragging our heels and wishing we didn’t have to.

For a child, it is no different, except that their version of work is school or maybe some other type of care, such as childcare. Just like adults, kids have their off days where they just want to be doing something else.

However, strong or ongoing school/daycare refusal can be a sign of something deeper occurring rather than just a child wanting to have a day at home. Often the cause is a fear or worry, with the Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimating that 2 to 5 percent of school-aged children are affected by anxiety-driven school refusal. This occurs most commonly around times of transition at school, such as starting school or moving to high school. Symptoms may include tantrums, meltdowns, stomach ache, headache, nausea, separation anxiety and, in serious cases, panic attacks.

For this reason, experts, such as Maggie Dent suggest that parents look deeper to ascertain the cause of a child’s school refusal. In this Parent TV video, she suggests opening lines of communication with your child to ascertain what is triggering their aversion to school. It could be due to friendship conflict, issues in the classroom or some other stressor. In some cases, it may a number of smaller issues that have accumulated to cause your child chronic stress.

However, it is not all grim news when your child doesn’t want to go to school. It could be a hurdle that can easily be overcome.

“Please don’t panic if they say they ‘I don’t want to go school’,” says Maggie. “Validate for them, and in a calmer moment explore what’s underneath that.”

In the case of younger children, who may not be able to articulate what is triggering them, it is important to establish a consistent, comforting transition between you and the teacher to reassure your child they are safe. Psychiatrist, Dr Kaylene Henderson has some great advice about dealing with separation anxiety in younger children here.

Most importantly, behavioural experts recommend avoiding punishment or threats with dealing with school refusal. Instead, it is important for parents to remain calm and pragmatic, letting your child know that you understand their feelings and want to help them find a solution so they can go back to enjoying school.


Learn more about the issues facing children at school – from bullying and friendship to play-based learning and technology.