When Kids Say No To School: What Parents Can Do

August 30, 2016

As summer draws to a close, the new school year can stir mixed emotions for parents and children alike. But for some, the transition can be especially difficult.

At least 5 percent of children will refuse or avoid school during a given school year, making it a growing issue in school systems across the country.

“Some students may not go to school at all, while some get to school then ask their parents to take them home,” said Scott Hannan, Ph.D., program director for the School Refusal Program at the Institute of Living’s Anxiety Disorders Center. “Others go to school, but avoid the classroom by spending time in the guidance or nurse’s office.”

Occasionally staying home from school doesn’t necessarily constitute school avoidance, but parents should be on the lookout for patterns in their child’s behavior.

“Over time, parents may begin to notice that there are certain times their child avoids or refuses school,” Hannan said. “It might occur more on Mondays or after holidays or long breaks. The beginning of a new school year or the transition into a different school setting can also act as a trigger.”

Numerous factors may lead to school refusal, including bullying, pressure to perform, social variables or emotional difficulties.  Factors such as poor sleep patterns and excessive time on electronics can make a transition back into school more challenging.

Students suffering from school avoidance often start to fall behind academically, which can result in increased workloads and even more stress, as well as an erosion of self-esteem. They may also begin to experience social difficulties as they interact less with their peer group and become more isolated.

Connecticut recently passed legislation that requires school systems with high rates of absenteeism to form committees to examine students and interventions. Despite the increased focus, there is still a lack of knowledge and resources.

“Kids tend to present their issues in very different ways, which makes it challenging to identify,” Hannan said. “For many kids, it takes up to two years for them to receive treatment.”

If parents suspect their child is refusing school, Hannan says the first step is to talk to the school system about what accommodations can be put in place based on the stressors that the child may be facing. He also suggests looking into different treatment options, including therapy to address underlying behavioral health or emotional issues.

For more information on the IOL’s School Refusal Program at the Anxiety Disorders Center, click here.

 HHC on TV: See Scott Hannan's interview on FOX CT about the IOL's School Refusal Program

Research Study

The Institute of Living’s Anxiety Disorders Center is inviting students ages 13-18 in grades 7-12 and their parents to participate in a research study about school anxiety. You do not need have problems with school or anxiety to participate in this study. After completing the study, you will have the chance to enter a raffle for a $25 Amazon.com gift card.

To participate, click here.