My Teen suddenly stopped wanting to go to school…..
School refusal, such a harsh term but nowadays in my practice I am seeing an increase in young students
refusing to go to school. The heart of this is generally anxiety. Please don’t use this blog to diagnose
your child, but instead use it to seek help from your child’s school or a mental health professional in
I have seen desperate caring parents bring in kids ranging in age from 7 to 17, simply refusing to go to
school. It starts sometimes with cries from the younger ones, or numerous attempts to get their teen
up and ready for school. Next, the quiet car rides, and slowly you notice your child disengaging from
school work, friends and family time. The anxiety has crept in and seeped in a little bit deeper with each
passing day. Something as simple as a math teacher telling a student they have the wrong answer to
something as serious as cyberbullying or bullying can lead to this disengagement and avoidance. The
high levels of anxiety are starting to cause some sleep problems. Your 7 year old is not falling asleep as
easily as he or she should and you know find that your 17 year old is awake in the middle of the night.
All of these behaviors can be signs leading up to a problem, now don’t get me wrong there are plenty of
17 year-old teens staying up to talk to friends or play video games. Generally that is more of discipline
issue, but if you are noticing disengagement from one of the their domains of functionality that is a
problem! The domains of functionality for most kids (although when in session with clients I like to
figure out their special domains) are individual, school, family, friends, extra curricular, and possibly
spirituality. If you see them down or sad more often, avoiding school work or friends, not engaging with
siblings or other family members, and just generally isolating themselves.
In a society of high expectations and so much information and knowledge piled on, our children are
struggling to what I like to call, get some grounding. What is important to them? What is important to
their parents? Fundamentally I think every parent will raise their hand to emotional well being, physical
health, and intellectual as well as financial independence. In general, we want to raise good human
beings that are productive members of society.
How do we do this? Not to put it to simply, but structure, communication, and love. I am a parent of
three, I get it. Structure? Easy, ha not so much. But it is key. Each families situation will be unique, their
may be a traumatic even that leads down the path of school refusal, but it also may be underlying
anxiety that they need help coping with from their family and likely a professional. You need to look at
how your child or teen is engaging in their domains and try to lift them up while providing structure.
Strict bed times are a must, replacing digital/electronics time with outings/reading or family time. It
doesn’t have to be war, I have found that when you say something like “Lets go the natural history
museum and grab lunch in 10 minutes,” rather than “Get off the electronics in 10 minutes, we are going
out!” you will get a less defensive response.
Also, ask your child “What do you like about school?” or
“What are your goals?” Often times we think that our child’s goals are the same as ours and maybe they
aren’t. Not to say their goals of a passing grades are good enough, if you know they are capable of more,
but think about how can you communicate and lift them up so that both your goals match?
If you are struggling with school refusal, please feel free to contact Joann Carter, LCSW. We can set up a
session to create a plan to help you.