School Refusal: 8 Parent Tips When Your Child Refuses to Go to School
Lisa Lightner provides advice for parents whose children refuse to go to school.
Every morning, I go into my son’s room (he’s 9) and wake him up. And every morning, he looks at me, then rolls over and says, “Pass.”
It’s an ongoing joke between us. After a few minutes, he drags himself out of bed and either he gets dressed or takes a shower, depending on the day. And that’s it.
For some families, they have an ongoing school refusal saga every single day. And it’s exhausting. I’ve seen what can transpire in the worst situations (observing clients). My heart really goes out to you because I can see how stressful it is.
I was watching Dr. Phil yesterday and the teenager on the show was refusing to go to school. In this case, it appeared to be a mix of an addiction (video games) and attention seeking behavior due to his parents’ divorce. But you could just kind of tell that one day, Mom wakes up and is asking, “How did we get here?” Am I right? So, no judgment here. Let’s just try to get it fixed for you.
These tips are for all kids, with or without an IEP/504.
8 tips for dealing with school refusal
- Go with your gut.
Parents usually know when a problem is a problem or just a blip on the radar. Is this just a minor parenting and discipline issue that requires you to be a bit more strict and stringent for a while? Or is it truly time for an intervention? Have social and/or academic demands changed recently?
- Act quickly and ask for help.
And be proactive, collaborative and cooperative. If you see a pattern developing, act now. Things can spiral out of control quickly. This is one issue that causes family/school relationships to deteriorate quickly. Don’t wait until you’re looking at truancy letters in the mail or failing grades. If your child has refused to go to school and you let them stay home even once, you’ve opened a door that is very hard to close, so do not wait.
- Document everything.
Why don’t they want to go to school? What is their reason for refusing school? Document everything they are telling you and include his/her teacher and IEP team. You need to get your paper trail and documentation going.
- Find the source or cause of the school refusal.
All behavior tells you something. What is this behavior trying to tell you? Bullying? Learning disability? Anxiety? What is your child saying? Can you find a pattern or an incident that may have triggered this?
- Familiarize yourself with truancy laws.
Whether we like it or not, truancy laws exist. We may not think they are fair or reasonable, but that’s not for us to decide. You need to familiarize yourself with your state truancy laws and be proactive (point 2 above). This is why you need your paper trail. If you find yourself in truancy court, you want to have data and documentation that you have been trying to solve this problem.
- Get evaluations and an FBA.
If the child has a Behavior Plan, either it is insufficient/inappropriate for that child, or it’s not being followed. So it has to be fixed. If the child does not have an IEP or Behavior Plan, you need to ask for IEP evaluations to get one.
- Seek treatment.
The IEP process is long. From a letter requesting evaluations to a Behavior Plan in place could easily take 100 days. While you are waiting, see what your insurance plan covers. Or if your state offers Wrap around Behavioral Health options.
- Pursue other options.
One of the hardest thought hurdles for us as a society is the vision we have for our public school system. What we are learning is that we are not one-size-fits-all. Maybe homeschooling is the best option for your child. Or a different IEP placement or a home cyber school.
And a bonus 9th tip: Take time to read all of those hyperlinks that I provided. This is a complex issue and not one that can be addressed in just one blog post.
Also, know that this is a problem that can be fixed. I’ve seen schools really step up and do some creative things for kids. Once we arranged for a guidance counselor to go to a teen’s home every day at 6 am and help the child through their anxiety. I’ve seen teams put together some great Executive Functioning Accommodations for kids who struggled to do “mornings.”
I had a student (I used to teach a vocational program) and she struggled with Executive Functioning issues so terribly. For her, she was either at school 1-2 hours early, or not at all. There was no in between. She simply could not plan out her mornings to get there on time. So, we accommodated her early arrivals with credit for volunteer hours and extra study time and tutoring when she needed it.
This is one issue that I find parents and teams really get at odds with each other and it doesn’t have to be that way. We all want our kids to get an education –we’re on the same team. We just may be at odds as to how to do that.