School Refusal: What Is It, and How Can Parents Help?


If you’re a parent, you want the best for your kids. You want to see them flourish in school, enjoying the social and academic aspects of their day without worrying excessively. Therefore, it can be disheartening to see your kid form a negative association with their educational settings. 

School refusal (sometimes called “school anxiety” or “school avoidance”) is more common than you might think. According to anxiety researchers, roughly a quarter of primary- and secondary-school-aged kids experience school refusal at some point during their academic tenure. For some, it’s minor: a bad run of days that temporarily discourages them. But for others, it may signal the start of a more encompassing aversion to education.  

In any case, it’s essential to be there for your kid. In this article, let’s look at a few ways you can help a student – whether a young kid or older teen – learn to love school again. 

How to Detect School Refusal

According to experts, school refusal manifests in several ways. You might notice obvious cues, like unwillingness to attend classes, avoidance of homework assignments or open complaints about their life at school. 

However, kids sometimes hide their aversion to school, fearing the consequences if they open up about their feelings. In these cases, school refusal can manifest as unpleasant emotions like anger, sadness or detachment, or unusual behaviours like excessive lying, difficulty concentrating or trouble sleeping. 

Getting to the Heart of the Issue

To help, you first have to uncover the source of the problem. Moreover, you need to make a concerted effort to understand the issue – a process that requires active listening and empathy. 

Ask your kid what worries them about attending school. It might be a single issue or several issues at once. Common reasons for school anxiety include: 

  • Peer pressure or bullying
  • Feelings of intellectual inadequacy
  • Overscheduling, or discomfort with the rigid routine of school
  • Work that’s either too hard or too easy
  • Or mental health issues

This Very Well Family article details several possible causes of school anxiety. Consider giving it a read before you talk to your kid. 

Consider a New Educational Model

While some school refusal can be solved through open dialogue and motivation, other instances may require you to rethink your kid’s educational model. 

Are they best served by in-classroom learning, or would they be happier and more successful with online education? For instance, if your kid is struggling to keep up in high school math class, would it be easier for them to take Grade 12 Advanced Functions online instead? 

Online schools solve several of the potential issues surrounding school refusal. They spare students from much of the peer pressure of being in a physical classroom. They are self-paced, which allows students to work through challenging concepts without worrying about keeping up with their peers. And online classes are situated within the comfort of your home. Online schools aren’t for everyone, but they may work – talk to your kid about the potential benefits of completing their courses online. 

With a little investigating, a little compassion, and some outside-the-classroom thinking, you can help your kid overcome their school anxiety and thrive academically. 



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