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Parenting & Kids Home > Back to School

Help! My Child Refuses to Attend School!

"I need help! My 9 year old daughter has started resisting school. She misses several days every week, complaining of tummy or head aches. When I try to talk to her she screams and cries. She acts as if she's terrified to go."

Situations like this require a firm hand. Do not be tempted to wait and hope that she will eventually go to school by herself. If left too long, she may never go back.

At the same time, recognise that her anxiety and distress are genuine. Getting angry at her will not work.

She may have one of three conditions that you need to determine: school phobia (fear of going to school), separation anxiety (fear of leaving you or your home, or agoraphobia (fear of crowded and public places).

If it might be the first, check if she is being bullied, teased, embarrassed, or abused at, or on the way to, school. Work closely with the teachers to identify and deal with any problematic situations.

Take her to the doctor for a complete physical examination. Tell the doctor the whole story and ask him to rule out any serious illnesses.

Once the doctor has done this, believe him! Do not chase after ever more expensive tests. From this point onwards your assumption is that the child is well and so should be in school. Give her firm and confident reassurance that both she and you will be fine when she is there. If she complains again of being unwell you then have two options:

The first is that you insist that she go to school unless there is clear, measurable, evidence that she is sick, for example having a temperature, obvious diarrhoea and vomiting, etc. Just "feeling unwell" is not enough to miss school, after all, many adults have to go to work with headaches or other symptoms.

The second option is to take her word for it and act accordingly. Since she is ill, she should be in bed. Turn off her lights, close the curtains, and don't allow any TV or special snacks. Just go about your daily routine and don't give her any attention. Make sure that being at home is as boring as can be. If she can't sleep, then she should work on her studies. Don't allow any visitors.

You can also establish some rewards for going to school.

Resolve to stick to your guns, but do it calmly. Make it known that you expect her to attend school but don't fight with her. Your goal is to make her want to go, and soon. As soon as she goes and learns that both of you are doing fine while she is there, then her depression and anxiety should go away.

If these techniques don't work and you think she may be seriously depressed or anxious, then find professional help by asking your family doctor for a referral.

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