It is not uncommon for a child or teen with depression to avoid or refuse to go to school. Inability or reluctance to wake up and get dressed in the morning, frequent visits to the school nurse, skipping class, or frequent complaints of physical pain and sickness such as headaches, stomach aches, nausea, or diarrhea can all be signs of school refusal. Anxiety and defiance may be present, as well.
The Director of Child Programs at Compass Health Center, Lee Dal Pra, AM, LCSW, says, “It’s so important to have self-compassion. It’s a painful process for parents, caregivers and everyone.” As a parent, it is hard to know what to do. The behavior can be disruptive to the family and it’s heart wrenching to see your child in pain and unable to manage school. One of the most important steps in dealing with school refusal is to understand why your child is having difficulty getting to school in the first place. School refusal is often a manifestation of an illness like depression or anxiety, but it can also be the result of bullying or issues with friends or family members.
If your child is avoiding or refusing to go to school, talk to your child’s therapist. He can help develop strategies to help resolve the situation, such as addressing your child’s sleeping habits so that he is ready for school in the morning. If it is an issue of bullying, the school should be involved in order to mediate the situation between the bully and your child. If the school refusal is rooted in family problems, family therapy may be helpful.
Regardless of the reason for school refusal, it is probably a good idea to get your child’s school involved. The school may have ideas about how to help. However, with more people involved, communication is key. Make sure releases are signed so that the school can work with you and your child’s therapist seamlessly—resulting in a consistent approach that is supportive and, ultimately, effective.
Everyone’s situation is different, and therefore, blanket advice on this topic is not fitting. However, there are a few tips that we have found helpful.
- Avoid engaging in a power struggle. When your child is refusing to go to school, try to avoid getting upset. This can escalate the situation and cause both you and your child stress—which is not a helpful headspace for a child already having trouble going to and/or staying in school.
- Validate how they must be feeling. Think about what would be helpful to you if you were in your child’s shoes. It would probably feel pretty comforting to know that your mom or dad understands that you are in pain and that getting to school is hard.
- Reinforce the plan. Remind your child of the plan in place. If part of the plan is using skills learned in therapy, ask your child’s therapist to teach you the skills so you can help. Review those skills with your child each day until he starts to integrate them regularly. Ask your child if it’s okay for teachers to be cued in so they can support your child when needed.
- Establish a safe space. Often when a child is experiencing emotional difficulty in school, there is a fear of visibly “losing control” in front of his classmates. This may be why he is avoiding school. One way to make the school day feel safer for your child is to ask the school to establish a safe place where he can go to collect himself such as a social worker’s or nurse’s office.
- Practice patience. Be firm on the idea of going to school and also understand that overcoming school refusal may take time.
- Reward and praise improvement. Make sure to point out the moments when your child is using his skills or making even the smallest steps in the right direction. Remember, when you are depressed, you see failure in everything. Positivity is very powerful.
Chronic school refusal may mean a therapeutic school environment is needed for your child. Talk to your child’s school if you believe this step is necessary, as it can sometimes be difficult to get the school’s buy-in. IDEA/IDIEA (Federal law) requires that a school must provide children with the least restrictive educational environment. For a child exhibiting chronic school refusal, this means that every available school intervention must be exhausted before a school district will fund a therapeutic school placement.
If you have the resources, you may decide to initiate the process on your own. If you decide to do this, you can talk to your child’s pediatrician or therapist, who may have some suggestions for you. You can also contact the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (www.natsap.org) to find a school, or hire an educational consultant who specializes in therapeutic schools. The Independent Educational Consultant Association (www.iecaonline.com) is a good resource to help you find a consultant in your area.
For more information download our Parent Handbook on Childhood and Teen Depression.
Great post! Thank you for this information.
Thanks for this post, it is indeed enlightening.
My grandson wont go school I am worried about him.
My 11 years old grandson hates school he just started year 7 and he was absent many days he said he doesn’t feel well every morning I checked everything with his paediatric physically he is fine But still he hates to go to school. I am so worried about him.
My 11 y.o. Girl whom has 3 other sisters one 17,13,26, and they go faithfully everyday and are straight A’s. My 11 year old is as well a straight A student. Everyday it is a grueling fight to get her to get up get dressed and out the door! Absolutely no yelling or arguing because that absolutely does nothing but hurt everyone involved!! I just don’t know what to say or do anymore! We have done the, “I’ll buy you a treat after school if you go.”, I bring her in late, so to let her wake up and let her process things ! Everyone’s cell phones are up between 9-9:30 and straight to bed . So there is no issue with sleep she don’t start school til 8:30 . She now fights us hard screaming, slamming doors, etc. we have asked school for help but everyone knows just how far that got ! Next move is for US as Parents to introduce some counseling of a sort to see if we can see exactly what is going on . I want a professional opinion because “GOOGLE-DIAGNOSIS”, is not the real answer. I get so frustrated and cry because I feel as if I have failed as a parent, but it is obvious that I am not alone in this . My wife gets physically and emotionally upset makes herself sick from it ! I feel so so heart wrenched seeing our 11 yo acting like this and knowing it is not something she can control of a sort. Does that make sense? If you or anyone has any extra input to help me out please let me know! I appreciate everyone’s input on this ! RESPECT TO ALL THE PARENTS OUT THERE GOING THROUGH THIS OR ANY OTHER ISSUE WITH THEIR CHILDREN!! We must absolutely never ever give up on them !!!
would it be an issue at school? like bullying? i hope you can find an answer
My 13 year old grandson has anxiety depression and adhd he has school refusal and and iep we are thinking homeschooling
I don’t know the answer for your daughter, but I feel for you. My 14 yo son is the same way. He is fine and sociable and smart, but for unknown reasons refuses to go to school, even though he says he likes school. He just won’t go and it doesn’t make sense, there’s no bullying, his teacher is super sweet and supportive. But he freezes every morning and then slams doors and just goes comatose. Ugh!
My Son 13yo Son is refusing to go back to school post end of lockdown. He manifests illness which is driven by his extreme anxiety to go back to school. Every morning my wife and i are in a constant battle with this and despite our efforts and positive spin, we end up totally frustrated, angry and in the end defeated. The school has been very helpful and accommodating and his psychologist and school councilors are trying their best but its a long road.
Lockdown’s and self study at home has given children greater comfort that home is a safe place away from the threats of covid and all i can ascertain is that their is a thought of him going back to school with large crowds is driving this anxiety. Its hard for us to work with him to find a pathway out of this but we are trying.
Respect to all parents trying their best to deal with this new pandemic and working with their kids to comfort and support their transition back. Its one of the most saddening things my wife and I have ever faced as adults and parents. Just letting everyone know that you are not alone.
Thank god the school year is days away from being over and hopeful of a fresh start next year.
Stay strong !
I have the same problem and my son is 16 ! Glad to see I’m not alone thanks
I don’t think she can control how she’s feeling and that in itself becomes overwhelming and can then lead to the feelings of dread in the morn. I am struggling with my 14 yr old daughter and it is one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced. Prayers and love being sent from a parent who understands.
Don’t be too worried. Ask him if he’s being bullied at school. If he says no, then you should be worried a lot.
My teenager has refused to go school and has been showing signs of depression will this program helps
How can I get help for my grandson who lives with his parents but refuses to go to school. His high school football coach has tried talking to him to no avail. Bad choices in friends and pot plays a part in this.
Thank you! Very powerful. I am going thru this with my 13 year old daughter and it so hard for all involved ☹️
Me too! I have trouble sending my 15 y/o go to school.
I know the feeling. I raise my 13 granddaughter and I’m having a hard time getting her to go to school. Am at my wits end. Thanks for the info.
Rose, thanks for your information my 16, years old daughter is refusing to tho to school.
My 15 year old daughter is refusing daily weekly I’m doing all of the above and the struggle is real…
I fee like I could have written the same concern earlier today. My daughter is in an intensive program during the week after school but today told me she didn’t feel like going and was so angry with me. Selfishly, I am exhausted.
Know how you feel speration anixety
Know how you feel
My 13 year old is refusing to go to school she has bad anxiety and we are struggling with my father who has terminal throat cancer he’s always been her father figure. How do I help her I’ve asked the school if I can home school her but they have refused I dnt no what to do now she wnt stop crying and takes panic attackes
Are you in the United States? If so, you have the right to homeschool your daughter. It’s not the school’s choice. Every state has different laws and each country does as well.
I have been going through this with my child for the past 3 years. I’m exhausted… He is 14 And omg so stubborn. Ive spoken to him about seeing a therapist and he tells me he won’t talk to anyone and the most recent even before school started he told me he would runaway if I tried to make him. I feel so defeated and I cry all the time. I feel like a failure at times. His father walked out on us in 2016 because he didn’t want to have the responsibility of having a family and stress. Mind you he’s walked out on his other kids in his previous marriages. During his middle school years it was so hard with going at first then covid. The virtual was even hard with him.. He’s a good kid but when it comes to school he gives me every excuse. I’m at my wits end. I don’t know what to do. I truly don’t…
Maybe someone can give me advice…
Going through same thing. When he does go to school h skips classes or walks out the door.
Hello. I’m sorry that you both are having a hard time. I would suggest that you get a therapist to help you to cope and maybe also try a family therapist as well. Even if he doesn’t talk in the family sessions, maybe he will be willing to just sit and listen until he’s ready to open up. It’s worth a try.
I can totally relate. I have a 15 yr old who refuses to go to school. We have even moved her into an alternative where she only needs to attend hours a day and can have her work load modified to ease the stress on her. She was recently diagnosed with depression and we have had to start her on a antidepressant. As of today she is still refusing to go to school. This is a very difficult situation because it causes a lot of stress on the entire household. I am trying my best to be patient and understanding now that she has been diagnosed with depression. I read an article once that said their well being is more important at this moment not school. That they can always return to school at a later time when they are mentally better, but in the meantime how as a parent am I supposed to just allow her to stay home and not get an education. I feel that by letting her stay home I am partaking in her being confined to her room and although I understand that it may be difficult for her to get out and be social that she must continue to try so this does not carry on into her adulthood.
I am so lost and confused on the proper way to handle this.
Praying for all of us parents and our babies who are dealing with this. May the Lord guide us and protect us all.
We are going they the exact same thing with my 14 yr old granddaughter. She has anxiety attacks or so she says and calls and calls until she gets someone to pick her up. She rarely stays in school the whole day. She has a therapist that she trusts and their doing all they can to help. She says she hates school and blames everyone in school for how she feels. She is on antidepressants but that also doesn’t seem to help. We are totally lost as to what we can do.
I was looking for advice when I saw your post and your prayer. I hope things are going well for you. These things are very hard and the Lord will guide us. We cannot lose sight of Him in our struggles! Thank you for your post!!! !!
I have a 15 year old that refuses point blank to go to school. This has been going on for a few months on & off! He has been to drs a few times, they have now given him anxiety medication but he still won’t go! He’s 16 next week but can’t leave until next year! I’m thinking my only option is home schooling! Wish I had the answers, it’s so stressful
I am in the same predicament. My 15 year old has been given numerous opportunities, in person, virtual, and he won’t do any of them. Says it’s too “boring”. He won’t open up to any therapists.
I’m like you, what do we do? Let them sit home and ruin their future? It’s really tough.
Your situation is exactly like mine with my almost 15 year old son. I have no answers, it is a daily struggle. He only goes to school 1-2 days each week if we are lucky. He is starting with the 3rd therapist next week, and we are hoping the new meds actually work. I miss my healthy happy kid so much!
I have a 14 year old son with Autism and he recently started having issues with attending high school to where he appears to now show signs of anxiety over it. I am a single parent raising a male with all the mental & physical emotions imaginable at this age. Like most in their post, my stress levels have gone up and its been very hard going through this. So I definitely get how difficult it is for everyone. Keeping all in my prayers. Psalms 27:14 & Phil 4:6-7
Wow it sounds like my son is living in your house, he is very familiar to your, all the same things he does, I don’t have any advice as I am looking for help myself, but I can say you are not alone, until today I didn’t think their were many other parents going thru what I do, but I know thats not true now. We didn’t fail, I will continue to look for ideas and ways to get my son back to school.
I am sorry you have to deal with all this. I can understand, I have a 13 year old who hates school. He was virtual last year and was doing great, now that he is back to school, he just hates it. He too keeps saying he will not talk to counselor. He doesn’t talk to anyone in school and is always so sad during the whole day. We have taken a decision to start homeschooling for him, hopefully that would put his focus on learning instead of being depressed.
Thank you for the post we have been struggling for about four yrs because of bullying in the past. we now have school refusal going on it’s really difficult for your child to understand how important school is and our child acts like they do not even care enough about it. We want our child to get a good education. Because of COVID our child has a lot of anxiety also depression about school. Our child also sees a therapist for these reasons. We pray our child will snap out of it soon.
I have a 15 year old son. He suffers from anxiety and dressing. He ïs currently being home-schooled, he is not motivated to do anything. He was always on honor roll. He is seeing a therapist and working on goals. He has headaches, stomach aches and pains every other day. I don’t know what else to do at this point. He sleeps most of the day when I do get him up. I’m taking one day at a time with him. But as a parent I could get in trouble for allowing him not to complete his assignments. God bless all the children and parents going through these situations.
My son is 14 in year 10 he struggles going to school he says he doesn’t want to , he has learning difficulties we provided a shadow teacher but also he refused to go he says Ian embarrassed, I don’t know what to do he QNET only 4 days and till now he is at home I struggle with him everyday he hate school and hate waking up early and I don’t feel comfortable not letting him go it’s not an option for me .
I am struggling with my 14 year old son. He is refusing going to school. He has learning difficulties he says school not important. With Covid last year it didn’t help. High school is overwhelming for him. I am a widow he doesn’t have a male role model. He is shy and it’s hard for him to make friends. I feel so helpless
I think we need to start a self help group to help uplift us parents as we struggle to help our children. The struggle is real.
I agree it is very difficult watching my daughter struggle with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder she has been refusing school as she feels stupid and weak. It breaks my heart.
I have a 14 year son who refused to go to school every day is a problem to go to school
Yes, the struggle is real.
I’m literally crying from reading all these responses, they are so real to me, and sound exactly like what I’m going thru with my 14 yo. Agree that we should start a support group.
My 16 year old son just got a University admission, but insists he is too young to ho to University now. What do I do?
Thanks for the info. Glad to know I’m not alone. It’s very stressful!
I’m going through this with my 16 year old daughter. I am so frustrated. I had put her in therapy 2 months ago and she stopped wanting to go there too. I don’t know what to do at this point.
This website has great information. My teen also refuses to go back to school, yet there is nothing I can do to change his mind. He refuses to talk to anyone. My only hope is that there would be many more public service announcements that aim to “Get Depression out of the Dark.” To maximize the chance of these messages reaching adolescents/teens, it would be very helpful to have social media influencers delivering these messages.
I’m literally crying, reading all the responses, they are so what I’m going thru with my 14 yo son. I feel every day like I’m walking on eggshells making everything perfect so he’ll wake up and want to go to school. But 9 times out of 10 he freezes up and becomes unresponsive and won’t go. But then later in the day, he’s fine and conversational, and on his computer engaging with friends. The pandemic cemented a total online existence and it’s like he can’t get out of that. We had to pull him out of public school and get him into an alternative school which is much more flexible, his teacher is very supportive and patient. But he still has panic/ anxiety and won’t go most days. What’s the next step for him?? He NEEDS AN EDUCATION. I’m at a loss and don’t know what to do. I cry and don’t sleep, it’s so awful.
I’m going through the same thing with my 11 yr old daughter and this is so very hard. Every day it’s an issue with going to school. I’ve tried everything and I don’t know what to do anymore. I have other small children and it’s not fair to them. Because I’m spending most of my time trying to get her up, then they become late for school. It’s so exhausting. I need help.
My 16 year old granddaughter refuses to go to school. She is very intelligent, as in straight A’s when she was going. I feel that her problem has to do with self image as she is plus size. We have tried everything we know to do. She has been in a behavior hospital for children for 1 week. Has tried to get admitted at least 2 more times and the hospital refuses to admit her as they do not feel that she meets the requirements. She has missed so many days of school now that the courts are involved and she and her mother have had to go to truancy court and the prosecutor told both that if she missed anymore days, he would issue warrants for both her and her mother. Her mother (my daughter) is small and in poor health (2 open heart surgeries with another upcoming and a stroke). There is no way that she can force her daughter (my granddaughter) to go to school as my granddaughter is much bigger and stronger than her mother. She has also gotten to the point of cursing her mother and calling her names that are pathetic. She is suppose to be going to counseling but refuses. She is suppose to be on meds but refuses to take them. What can be done for a girl that basically doesn’t want to help herself?