Why Some Children Refuse to Go to School
  Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D
School refusal is equally common among boys and girls and is most likely to occur between age 5 to 11. Incidence of school refusal is highest when schools reopen after summer.  

School refusal is defined as the behavior of resisting or refusing to attend a specific class or to stay in school for an entire day.  Such school refusal may be accompanied by one or more of the following behaviors: complaints about stomach pain, headache, or nausea before or during school; crying before and during school; frequent visits to the school nurse; temper tantrums; specific fears; anxiety or sadness.   

School refusers otherwise tend to be compliant, well-behaved, and academically smart kids.  Unlike truants, they stay home only with their parents' knowledge.  Generally, they have a close relationship with one or both parents.  Overall, they are good kids. So the question arises why does a child who wants to comply with the parents' wishes and be good, drive them nuts in the morning when it's time to get ready for school? 
Children refuse to go to school for a reason, and we parents should determine what that reason is. 

Some children refuse to go to school because they are overly anxious.  Some may have specific fears or concerns regarding teachers, peers, or some other aspects of the school setting.  Others may consciously or unconsciously worry, not about the school as such, but about being away from home.  Some overanxious children are afraid to sleep on their own, insist on having lights on in their room at night, and have nightmares about their safety or the safety of their parents.  

Children who are overanxious about something at school or home need to be gradually exposed to the situation they want to avoid.  Offer them emotional support and encouragement.  They need to develop better means to cope with situations that provoke anxiety.  
School refusers tend to feel that others see them in a negative way.  They become unduly self-conscious and avoid social situations in which they fear others may criticize them or make fun of them behind their back.  Some have negative and troublesome relationships with their peers, and are, perhaps, teased by mischievous children or harassed by a bully.  

For children who refuse to go to school in order to avoid a difficult social encounter, teach them effective social behaviors such as, learning to say "no" assertively, seeking help from adults, and making new friends.  Seek help from school authorities if there is a genuine concern for the safety of your child.  

In some cases, school refusal starts out with children experiencing discomfort in the school setting, but as time goes on, they develop a liking for staying home.  It dawns on them how much more fun it is to stay home than to go to school and do the "boring stuff."  For example, when "John is allowed to stay home, he stays in bed for longer hours, plays with toys or watches TV, and gets to visit his grandparents during the day.  If I were John, I sure would like to stay home day after day, wouldn't you?  

Don't make staying home more rewarding than going to school.  Eliminate or reduce all incentives for staying home.  On the contrary, attach rewards and incentives to going to school and staying there throughout the school hours. 

Some teenagers suddenly become reluctant to go to school because of an appearance and self-esteem problem, or social "image" problem prompted by a school rumor or being let down by a friend.  They need appropriate skills and parental support to deal with such situations.  Openness in communication and closeness with parents can be really helpful.   

 Some children are clinically depressed and experience significant difficulty in getting up and getting out of bed in the morning.  Children who are clinically depressed or who suffer from an anxiety disorder need professional help.  Some medications cause sluggishness and may make it difficult for a child to be alert and active in morning.  In such event, consult your doctor.  

Having investigated the possible causes and offered your support as a parent, you may have to "push" your child out to school.  You may have to learn to ignore the tantrums, complaints, and the pleading to "let me stay home just for today."  .   

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