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Why Does My Child Refuse to Go to School?

In School Refusal: What parents need to know, Dr. Julie Saflarski discussed school refusal, the pattern of behaviors that often stem from emotional distress that are triggered by the school environment. A child may not want to go to school, may call to come home from school or may refuse to get out of bed on school days.

Today, Dr. Saflarski discusses the common causes of school refusal and offers recommendations for addressing it with your child.

While parents may wonder why their child is refusing to go to school, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) identified these common causes:

  • Anxiety. Children may worry about being away from home, preforming in front of the class, or being embarrassed or humiliated in front of their classmates. They may also worry about talking to others or just don’t feel comfortable in social situations.
  • Depression. Some students experience symptoms of depression that impact their motivation or desire to attend school.
  • Bullying. Some students are either being bullied at school or have a fear of being bullied. When students avoid school for this reason, there is a real threat of bullying occurring.
  • Health-related concerns. Children may experience physical complaints when under a lot of stress. Sometimes it is caused by high levels of anxiety. School refusal can also happen when a child returns to school after being home with an illness.

When a parent notices a change in their child’s behavior, or some of these warning signs begin to emerge, it is important for the parent to understand the child’s experience. While school refusal can sometimes stem from oppositional behavior (refusing to comply with parent requests), there may be additional factors that are fueling the continuation of the behavior.

Here are a few recommendations for addressing school refusal:

  • Involve the student’s teacher. Parents should involve the school as much as possible. They can work together to develop a safe and distress-free environment. Teachers often have insight into a child’s behavior and experiences at school that a parent may not know. They can also develop a plan of action to help re-integrate the student into feeling more comfortable at school.
  • Bring your child to his or her pediatrician. As mentioned before, many children have physical complaints that may cause them to frequently visit the nurse’s office during school or request to stay home. Taking your child to the doctor to rule out any illnesses is important if there is a health-related concern that should be addressed.
  • Stay firm but kind. Parents understand their child’s distress and sometimes may innocently allow the behavior to continue by having their child stay home. Parents must try and stay firm by helping their child continue to attend school as the longer they stay home, the more challenging it will be for them to re-enter school.
  • Seek therapy for symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. If symptoms of anxiety and/or depression are impairing the child’s sense of comfort and learning, it is important to seek professional assistance to help the child learn ways to appropriately manage discomforting emotions rather than avoid them.


Dr. Julie Saflarski has valuable clinical experience working with children and adolescents both in and outside of schools around Chicago. Dr. Saflarski has expertise in working with children who struggle with symptoms of anxiety, depression, special needs and developmental disabilities. She also works to help support parents and families to best promote healthy development and resilience in their children. Learn more about Dr. Julie Saflarski on our website.

The Family Institute offers therapy and counseling for children, adolescents, parents and families at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, Westchester and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.

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