School Refusal

By Suzyn Jacobson, LCSW

School Refusal

By Suzyn Jacobson, LCSW

Why Do Children Refuse to Go to School?

School refusal presents challenges for parents, students, and schools. There are many reasons why children refuse to attend school. As a parent, it is important to recognize the function of this behavior to determine the particular reinforcement systems that support school refusal. Children may avoid school because something at school is making them feel bad, because they are trying to escape negative social situations, or because they are seeking attention. There are underlying mental health problems that frequently impact this behavior. These include Depression, Separation Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Generalized Anxiety, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and undiagnosed learning problems.

Treatment is critical in order to understand the motivation and reinforcement systems that support school refusal, and to foster healthy social, emotional and educational development. Insecure, anxious and depressed children may need intervention in order to improve their self-esteem and increase the feeling that they are in control of their lives in healthy ways.

student feeling disconnected in school

An adolescent boy refuses to get up for school because his parents have to leave too early for work to wake him up; a ten-year-old refuses to go to school because she is being bullied; a six-year-old refuses because she does not want to leave her pregnant mother; a fourteen-year-old girl refuses to attend school because she has no one to sit with at lunch; a pre-teen is struggling with school work and wants her mother to home school her.

Treatment for these challenges may involve a combination of individual and family work and/or pharmacological interventions. Individual work focuses on desensitization, relaxation therapy, cognitive work, and social skills training. Family work stresses communication patterns within the family and the examination of rules and structure within the home. Treatment is critical in order to understand the motivation and reinforcement systems that support school refusal and to foster healthy social, emotional, and educational development. Insecure, anxious, and depressed children may need intervention in order to improve their self-esteem and increase the feeling that they are in control of their lives in healthy ways.

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