My Child Refuses To Go To School: What Can Parents Do?

School refusal occurs when children struggle to attend school due to various factors, such as mental health concerns and family/social problems. A report conducted by MEST in 2017 showed that 134,398 pupils refuse or resist attending school in Japan, and this number has increased over the years. This issue causes multiple problems related to their health and future careers.

When a child refuses to go to school, parents should identify and address the underlying cause promptly. This article will explain practical steps to help your child overcome school refusal and ensure their well-being.

What Are The Potential Problems When a Child Refuses to Go to School?

School refusal is a major concern that should be managed as soon as possible. Research highlights some long-term problems if children keep refusing to go to school as follows:

  • Mental health issues: When a child refuses to go to school, and the underlying causes remain unaddressed, the child will suffer from the fear of returning to school. Over time, these negative feelings will be exacerbated.
  • Emotional and social issues: Missing school means missing out on social interactions. School is a primary place for children to interact with their peers and build friendships. Hence, if a child doesn’t want to go to school, they will feel a sense of isolation and loneliness.
  • Early school dropout: Persistent school refusal increases the chance of a child dropping out of school. Lack of interaction with peers and teachers causes stress, and the only escape for them now is to stop schooling.
  • Employment challenge: School refusal will limit a child’s education and future opportunities for stable career prospects.

School refusal negatively affects the child, their family, and their future well-being. Parents can assist by closely observing their children for signs of school refusal.

Once they identify any indications, it is crucial to investigate the underlying causes and implement appropriate interventions. The following section will outline detailed steps to address this issue.

Deal with School Refusal: Step 1 – Identify Signs

The first thing to address school refusal is to determine if your child is avoiding going to school or has any excessive anxiety. Parents may notice these signs:

  • Clinginess, dawdling, tantrums, and running away on the way to school: Primary-aged children clearly show signs of school refusal. They cling to their parents or even run away when they arrive at school.
  • Complaints of sickness: Children may frequently complain of illnesses such as dizziness, fatigue, headache, or stomach ache as a way to avoid going to school.
  • Requests to go home: Children may ask to go home or call their family members during school hours.
  • Unexplained absences: Children may be absent without any apparent reason. This issue is common after special occasions, like holidays and school events. Some may ask to stay home on certain days, such as those with tests, because such activities cause them anxiety.
  • Frequent lateness: Children are reluctant to attend school on time. If this issue persists, their hesitation will show more noticeable signs of school refusal.

Please note that the symptoms above may stem from other health conditions. It would be best to work with your child and seek professional help to identify the exact underlying cause.

Deal with School Refusal: Step 1 - Identify Signs
Deal with School Refusal: Step 1 – Identify Signs

Deal with Child’s School Refusal: Step 2 – Identify Reasons

After identifying school refusal signs, parents should find out the true cause. It can be related to health concerns or social/family issues.

Health Concerns

Health concerns may impact a child’s interest in schools. Here are some potential issues:

  • Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD): This anxiety disorder makes a child feel worried when away from their family members or familiar places. The extreme worry comes from their thought of separation.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (social phobia): This type of anxiety disorder is characterised by symptoms of fear in social situations. The child is afraid of judgment from others.
  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD): If a child suffers from GAD, they have excessive anxiety about multiple aspects of life, such as school and relationships.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): A child with OCD has obsessive thoughts that cause anxiety or distress. Those thoughts make them engage in repetitive behaviours, known as compulsions.
  • Panic Disorder: This issue causes unexpected and frequent panic attacks without a clear trigger.
  • Depression: Depression causes a child to be upset or even hopeless. Symptoms like lack of energy and motivation make it difficult for them to attend school regularly.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): This health mental condition develops when a child experiences a traumatic event.
  • Learning Disorders: A child has difficulty learning specific subjects such as writing, math, or reading. Their performance is below what is expected for their age, grade, and intelligence. The difficulties lead to school avoidance.
  • Major Medical Conditions: Serious illnesses that require prolonged treatments may lead to fatigue and pain, causing school refusal.
  • Substance Use Disorders (SUD): This mental health condition develops as a result of drug or alcohol consumption. Children with SUD experience difficulties in relationships and academic performance.

Social/Family Issues

Families should be supportive environments for children to develop. Otherwise, they will feel distressed and avoid school. Some possible family or social concerns that a child may suffer include the following:

  • Bullying: Being bullied at school creates an unsafe environment for a child. To avoid the bully, they refuse to go to school.
  • Family member with severe medical illness: If one of their close family member, like a parent or sibling, is suffering from a serious illness, a child may feel stressed and just want to stay home with their family.
  • Parental separation: Family disruptions like separation or divorce make it hard for a child to focus on school.
  • Death in the family: The loss of their loved one causes depression, which distracts them from school.
  • Relocation: Moving to a new school or area can be overwhelming to a sensitive child. They will avoid school if they struggle to adjust to the new environment.
  • Student-Teacher Mismatch: If students don’t feel understood and supported by their teacher, they will become anxious and tend to avoid interactions.
Social/Family Issues
Deal with Child’s School Refusal: Step 2 – Identify Reasons

Deal with Child’s School Refusal: Step 3 – Apply Strategies

Once the reason for school refusal is identified, parents should take action to deal with it. Here is a step-by-step guide:

  • Check for physical/underlying needs: Start by consulting with a doctor to identify their underlying needs. If the issue doesn’t come from mental health, investigate if your child is dealing with bullying or has learning disabilities.
  • Talk to your child, avoid lecturing: Deep conversations can help when a child refuses to go to school. Parents will then understand their thoughts and foster trust.
  • Let your child join after-school activities: After-school activities provide children with many chances to engage in enjoyable experiences. They will feel a sense of connection to the school community. Those activities can also boost their confidence and develop new skills.
  • Take care of yourself: Dealing with a child’s school refusal can be stressful. So, to ensure you can give your child the best treatment, you should take care of your own well-being, remain calm, and seek support from friends or professionals if needed.
  • Make your child a plan and stick to it: Consistent treatment is crucial for children who refuse to go to school. A structured schedule helps them develop a habit of preparing for school. Parents can ask them to wake up, have breakfast, and go to school at the same time every day. This approach helps define school attendance as a routine and smooth process for them.
  • Support your child with some incentives and intervention ideas: If a child doesn’t want to go to school, support them with incentives and intervention ideas to encourage school attendance. While this approach can have an immediate impact, it should be used wisely. The ultimate goal is to build their self-motivation so they develop a positive attitude towards school.
  • Educate your child about some helpful skills: Skills like communication, teamwork, and problem-solving help children build confidence. With a robust skill set, they feel more comfortable interacting with their peers and teachers, and going to school becomes easier for them.
  • Be clear and firm about school: Strict rules maintain consistency. Parents should check if educators define clear criteria for when staying home is acceptable. For example, only students with fever, vomiting, or diarrhoea can be absent. This approach helps them understand the importance of school and reduces the chances of school refusal.
  • Work with the school: If your child insists on staying home, you can partner with the school to create a supportive environment that gradually helps your child return to school.
  • Seek treatment for underlying health concerns: If your child doesn’t want to go to school because of physical or mental health issues, you need to work with healthcare experts immediately. Develop a regular treatment if they suffer from chronic health conditions.
Deal with Child's School Refusal: Step 3 - Apply Strategies
Deal with Child’s School Refusal: Step 3 – Apply Strategies

How Can UNIS Hanoi Help When a Child Refuses to Go to School?

Schools play an important role in helping when a child refuses to go to school. Understanding the importance of this urgent task, UNIS Hanoi focuses on individualised support and strong parent-teacher partnerships.

In the Elementary School, faculty and staff try to develop the whole student, including their academic, social, and emotional aspects. They ensure that each student receives tailored support for their needs.

Meanwhile, the Secondary School curriculum develops each student to become independent thinkers and lifelong learners. At UNIS Hanoi, every student can stand out with their uniqueness and have chances to strive for personal excellence.

With an engaging curriculum and supportive community, UNIS Hanoi is well-equipped to address school refusal issues. Students can feel motivated to attend school regularly.

How Can UNIS Hanoi Help When a Child Refuses to Go to School?
How Can UNIS Hanoi Help When a Child Refuses to Go to School?


School refusal may stem from various causes, making early intervention necessary to address the underlying reasons and avoid long-term consequences. The following questions and answers will give more insights to help parents manage this issue effectively.

How common is school refusal?

School refusal affects fewer than 1 in 20 children, often between ages 5 and 11. However, more than 25% of students show symptoms in different ways, such as leaving school early, frequently being late for school, and missing classes.

School avoidance is common among students because many of them face academic and peer pressure. Some even struggle with bullying and anxiety. Family issues can also disrupt a child’s sense of stability, making them reluctant to leave home for school.

Due to the high proportion of stressed students, schools and families should address this issue promptly by approaching and understanding the specific reasons behind their issues.

When does school refusal happen?

School refusal can occur at any time but is most common during these periods:

  • Transitions back to school, especially after long breaks, make it challenging for students to leave home because they have to disrupt their routines. The COVID-19 pandemic complicated school refusal as some children struggled to return to school after two years of staying home.
  • Transitions to a higher education level, like from elementary to middle school, trigger school refusal due to the unfamiliar environment.
  • After a shocking life event, such as parental divorce, children may develop anxiety that interferes with their interest in school.
  • Conflicts with a teacher or friend can create an uncomfortable school environment, leading to school refusal.

What should parents avoid doing when dealing with a child’s school refusal?

The attitude and behaviours of parents serve as a key part of supporting a child who refuses to go to school. During this sensitive period, children require a lot of parental assistance. So, parents should avoid:

  • Ignoring worries about their child’s issue.
  • Forcing them to go to school may exacerbate their anxiety.
  • Feeling pressured by the school.
  • Hesitating to speak to someone if necessary.
  • Thinking that your child is fine although you don’t feel it.

By avoiding those mistakes, parents can better help their children overcome their own concerns and develop effective strategies.

Author Profile

UNIS Communication Team
UNIS Communication Team
UNIS Hanoi is ever-evolving, but one thing that remains is our passion to nurture and equip students to be agents of change for a better world.

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