School Refusal Strategies: What to Do as a Parent

Everybody struggles with motivation — that’s just part of being human. But being the parent or carer of a child who refuses to go to school can have severe impacts on your relationship, dynamic, home life, and mental health. It’s a difficult situation that requires careful navigation and compassionate support, but you may feel overwhelmed and hopeless.

That’s what New Vision Psychology is here for. Using our expertise and experience we’ve gained from child and adolescent counselling services, we’ve written this guide for parents of children who refuse to go to school. In this article, we’ll take you through the signs, causes, and implications of teenage school refusal in Australia, as well as the strategies and resources you can employ to manage it and achieve the best outcome for you and your child.

Understanding School Refusal as a Parent

First off, it’s essential to differentiate school refusal from truancy. Truancy is usually hidden from parents or carers, while school refusal is an adamant refusal to the parent, and stems from the belief that the child cannot cope with going to school.

Why Does My Child Refuse to Go to School?

There are many different factors that may affect your child’s refusal to go to school. Every young person is different and their refusal could be due to one or multiple reasons. Consider the list below — do they show signs of:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Social anxiety and worry
  • Being affected by bullying or other social issues
  • Learning difficulties
  • Conflict with teachers
  • An unsettled family life
  • Academic pressure
  • Anxiety about exams, class, or public speaking

Recognising the Signs of School Refusal

Early signs of teenage school refusal may vary depending on the child’s age, but common behaviours to be vigilant about include:

  • Frequent complaints of physical ailments such as stomachaches and headaches
  • Increased absences from school and social withdrawal
  • Emotional distress, crying, and tantrums
  • Leaving school early or requesting to do so, and lateness
  • Panic attacks or refusal to eat at the thought of going to school
  • Difficulty falling asleep before going to school

As a parent, you don’t want to feel as though you’re forcing your child to go to school, but detecting these behaviours early on is critical to solving the issue. Treading this line can often be challenging and put additional stress on your lives. The best solution, if you feel you are out of your depth, is to speak to an adolescent counsellor who can work with your child to suggest management and support options.

Addressing School Refusal: Strategies for Parents and Carers

As soon as you recognise signs that your child refuses to go to school, it’s crucial to model effective communication and problem solving when speaking to them. This will encourage them to do the same and create a candid, stress-free, and non-aggressive environment to speak about their issues. 

Additionally, you can provide support by trying the following approaches:

  • Establish a conducive morning and evening routine. For example, consider helping them work out a daily schedule that gives them plenty of time to relax and destress.

  • Work with the school for collaborative management and support plans. Getting in touch with teachers and counsellors is often an effective solution, especially if you can get your teen excused from activities that may be contributing to their issues, such as public speaking, too much work, and group activities.

  • Approach the problem from a mental health perspective, prioritising their wellbeing over school attendance.

  • Acknowledge that sometimes the best solution is to consult a mental health professional and work with them create effective school refusal strategies for your child’s specific circumstances.

  • Encourage open and effective communication and reassure them that your home is a safe space to talk through any issues they may be facing.

School Refusal Strategies with Care and Tact

In addressing school refusal strategies, always remember that patience and understanding are your greatest allies. And don’t forget — your mental well-being is just as important in these situations. Don’t feel like you have to go it alone. If you are feeling overwhelmed or overburdened by the situation, reach out to friends and family who may be able to help or listen. 

There are also mental health hotlines and crisis chat services like Lifeline and Kids Helpline which will provide support for your child at all times. This could be useful for your child, especially if they do not feel comfortable speaking to you about their problems. It is important they understand that they are not alone in their struggles.

If you’re worried about your child’s refusal to go to school and are ready for professional support, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at New Vision Psychology. Our expert child psychologists are available to work with you and your child on school refusal strategies with care, compassion, tact, and understanding. Together, let’s pave the way for a brighter future for your child.

Josephine Choy

Registered Psychologist

  • Sydney CBD: Mon, Tue, Wed
  • Language: English

Kristy Zimmer

Registered Psychologist

  • Chatswood: Tue, Thu
  • Sydney CBD: Mon, Wed
  • Language: English

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