What To Do If Your Child Refuses to Go to School

There may be many reasons why your child refuses to go to school. It's important to find out the reasons in order to find a solution. Here are some tips to help your children overcome school refusal.
What To Do If Your Child Refuses to Go to School

Last update: 04 August, 2021

There are children who, for one reason or another, flatly refuse to go to school. Moreover, this year, it’s even more complicated because of everything that’s happening in the world. There will be children who feel anxious and feel a rejection toward school. So, what can you do if your child refuses to go to school?

If this is your case, surely, this situation is causing you stress. And you probably have several questions, such as what to do if he refuses to go to school, or what will happen with your job if they refuse to go back.

Every child’s different and, for this reason, the way they resist and refuse to go to school is also different. Here are some recommendations to help your child overcome school refusal, depending on how they express it.

How to help a child who refuses to go to school?

A father hugging his dad because he doesn't want to go to school.

Anxiety crises before going back to school

The first thing to do is to be patient and talk to the child to explain to them that they don’t have to be afraid and that you’ll always help them. When a child has an emotional crisis, while it’s happening, there are few things parents can do. Therefore, you’ll have to wait for it to pass and try to explain the situation with simple phrases to help you both gain control of what’s happening.

For example, you could say “I see you’re very nervous talking about school. Let’s take a break and, when you feel calm, we’ll talk about it.”

When all is calm and the child’s receptive, you can work with them on some coping skills to help them manage those crises so that they can talk when they feel nervous.

Crying and tantrums over school refusal

First of all, find out if the crying is really about going back to school. When they calm down, talk together about what you can do to make going back to school easier for them.

When you talk to your little one, you can say something like, “What’s really bothering you about going back to school? Talk to me. That way, between the two of us, we can find a way to make going back to school easier for you if you tell me what’s causing your anxiety.”

It’s very important to make it clear that not going to class isn’t an option, whether it’s in-person or online.

Refuses to get dressed for school in the morning

If your child refuses to get dressed for school, you can tell them that, if that’s their decision, it’s okay, they can go in their pajamas. Surely, when the child sees that they have to go, even if it’s in pajamas, they’ll end up getting dressed because going like that will embarrass them because of what their classmates will say.

They don’t want to get in the car, take the bus, or turn on the computer (if the case of online classes)

If you get to this point and you’re in a hurry to get to work because you’re already running late because of their refusal, the most important thing is to not lose control of the situation. And, with all the patience in the world, tell them that you’ll talk about this later when everything’s calmed down.

Once you get home, and in a calmer way, ask them what worries them about going to school or if they have any problems in class. If your child still refuses to go to school, you can consider the option of drawing up, together with the teacher, a behavioral contract that establishes the rewards for going to school (in person or online) without protesting and the consequences if they don’t.

They don’t want to do their homework or be obliged to go to class

In this situation, you should tell him that it’s true that you can’t force them to go to school, but you also can’t control the consequences that the school will apply regarding their choice not to go.

Then, calmly talk to them so they can explain why they don’t want to do their homework or go to class. Above all, let him know that you want to understand their position and the reason for their attitude so that you can solve the problem together.

A child wearing a school uniform, sitting on the stairs of her home.

School anxiety causes the child to get stuck in the thought “what if…”

If your child, when talking about school, uses  phrases like “what if…”, they’re communicating the fact that they feel anxious about this situation. As a parent, you need to react with empathy and reduce that anxiety so you can talk about what’s causing him to dwell on those negative thoughts.

Then, change their “what ifs” to “what is…”. For example, if your child says, “What if the kid who picks on me is there?” you can respond with something like, “What’s true is that you have your best friends in your class.”

Facing school refusal…

Refusal to go to school isn’t something that parents can solve alone because they need to inform the teacher of this situation so that, together, they can draw a plan of action for the child to go to class and do it in a calm way and without feeling anxiety.

There are a thousand reasons why a child may refuse to go to school, so it’s important to build trust to find out what’s the real reason that has your child’s so adamant about not going.

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  • Gonzálvez, C., Inglés, C. J., & García, J. M. (2018). ¡No quiero ir al colegio! Ediciones Pirámide.