What Should I Do If My Child Won’t Go To School?


If you’re a Mum or Dad of a child who’s refusing to go to school and you’re looking for some guidance, look no further. School refusal, or school anxiety, as it’s called, is immensely stressful, challenging, and distressing for both you and your child.

It might mean that you’re frequently faced with your child’s early morning meltdowns, fits of crying, or maybe even vomiting and nausea. Your head is probably overflowing with tricky questions like, ‘Is it easier if I just keep her home from school?’ or ‘What if he’s missing out on important lessons?’.

A child consistently refusing to go to school is more common than you might think. Especially if your child struggles with their mental health, is often very anxious, or finds it hard to be away from you, they may well find school a daunting and difficult thing to cope with.

Perhaps the school is starting to question you about their low attendance; maybe your own work schedule is getting disrupted, and maybe your child is becoming increasingly reluctant to leave the house in the morning.

If you are looking for ways to support your child to cope with school again, this blog post will provide you with suggestions, tips, and reassurance to make you feel a little less overwhelmed by this deeply challenging situation.


#1: Work out what it is about school that they’re trying to avoid

The first step is to try to get to the bottom of what exactly it is that’s making attending school so challenging for your child. Are they upset because they’re getting low grades and feel like they can’t meet academic expectations? Or are they perhaps being bullied, teased, or picked on by other children? If they’re a very anxious child, it might be something less specific, like they simply don’t feel safe at school.

Try to chat with your child openly about any worries they’re having at the moment and look for patterns that might point to what’s so triggering about school. For example, if they’re mentioning a lot of friendship troubles, it may be the social aspect of school that makes them feel frightened of going.

A lot of the reasons why children can feel scared to go to school are not ones that you can quickly fix yourself. For example, you’re sadly not going to be able to just remove all the mean children from the playground if that’s what’s making them anxious and isolated. But if you have a better idea of the specific triggers and the root cause of the school refusal, you’ll be in a much better position to speak encouragingly to your child about school and address their specific anxieties.


#2: Contact their school and keep the communication going

Once you think you’ve got a better idea of what’s causing your child’s school-related anxiety, now would be a great time to get in contact with your child’s school. They’ll certainly have already noticed if there’s been a dip in your child’s attendance, so don’t worry, you won’t be reaching out completely unexpectedly. You could write them an email explaining what’s going on, or if you prefer to chat, you can usually set up a phone call with specific teachers.

You might find that talking it through with the school takes a weight off your shoulders and helps you feel that something is being done to help your child. Both you and your child might be anxious about the impact this is having on their schoolwork. Your child might be especially worried about being told off for not getting things done. But if teachers are made aware that they’re finding things difficult, they can send you some worksheets to be done at home and be more understanding that your child needs more time. If you’ve discovered some of your child’s particular triggers, the school might even be able to put some things into place that could make your child more comfortable about the thought of going back to school. If you communicate with them, the school will be in a much better position to give your child the extra support that they need right now.

#3 Lower your child’s baseline levels of anxiety

Often, when a child is very anxious about going to school, it’s not actually just about school. They’re often also feeling stressed, worried, or low about other things too. So, something else that you could do to support your child is to find ways to lower their baseline levels of anxiety. If they feel calmer in general, your child will be much more likely to be able to cope with the negative feelings they have about school.

Some key areas to focus on here are sleep, exercise, and happiness. Try to make sure that your child has a peaceful nighttime routine that sets them up for some quality shut-eye. Feeling well rested will help your child to feel more stable and in control of their emotions. Also, make sure that even if they’re missing out on school PE at the moment, they’re still getting out and about and keeping their bodies moving. Playing and exercising are crucial building blocks of children’s mental wellbeing. And, let’s face it, they're much more likely to sleep well when they’ve been running around the park than they are if they’ve been cooped up indoors all day. Lastly, your child is probably feeling very anxious and upset that they’re finding getting to school so difficult, so it’s important to also find ways to distract them from this when you can. Make sure that they’re still engaging with things that they enjoy. Just because they can’t get to school, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still go to their ballet classes or the weekly piano lesson. In order to feel less anxious, your child needs time and space away from the ‘school problem’.


#4: Establish stable routines

Establishing some stable routines for your child, particularly in the morning, will not only help by making them feel generally calmer but also by making it more likely that they’ll feel ready to get out the door at 8am. A predictable, calm, and safe morning routine is something that you can easily set up for your child, and it’ll be so valuable for them.

Claire Sutton, co-founder of the Youth Mental Health Foundation, stresses the importance of creating these kinds of “healing home routines” for your child. In The Horizon Plan, our free online course supporting parents, she says that “no matter how worrying or troubling the world outside is for your child”, in this case specifically school, “it’s important to do all you can to ensure that their home is somewhere they know is safe, stable, and predictable”.

You might feel like you’ve got so many other commitments that trying to establish some elaborate new morning routine is going to be a huge challenge. But don’t worry, it doesn’t need to involve some sort of 3-hour-long intense schedule. It can be as simple as making sure they wake up at about the same time every day, that they always eat a good, healthy breakfast, and that their school bag is packed and ready, perhaps even the night before. There’s a much better chance that your child will start to feel more able to leave for school if they’re feeling relaxed and stable at home in the morning. Having a panicked rush in the morning because everyone overslept won’t make things any easier. Importantly, though, try to stick to these routines even if they’re not even making it out of the front door. It’s key that their stable routines stay the same. For example, you absolutely don’t want to start letting them sleep in late because you ‘know’ they won’t go to school. This will only solidify the cycle of them not attending.


#5: Practice, Practice, Practice

Lastly, you could try rehearsing school time with your child. In the same way that actors would feel wildly unprepared if they went out on stage having done no rehearsals, your child will feel much more prepared if they practice going to school without the pressure of it being the ‘real thing’. For example, you could practice travelling to school, however that might be.

Try to do this at a time when the pressure is completely off and nobody’s in a great rush. You could even do this journey on a Sunday morning if that’s the only free time you can find. Or if the journey itself is still too triggering for your child, you could start even smaller and just practice putting on their school uniform or putting their homework in their bag. By going through the motions of going to school with you supporting them and with less pressure, they might slowly feel more able to cope with it for real. After all, anxiety and fear often stem from feeling apprehensive about the unknown and unsure how things are going to turn out. The more you practice, the less school will be an ‘unknown’.


Even if right now getting your child into school feels like it’s a long way off, hopefully this article has given you some ideas of how to cope with the situation in the meantime. The main focus at the moment should be on talking to your child and the school, lowering your child’s anxiety, and finding ways to make the school morning routine a more peaceful, stable, and easy-to-manage part of the day for your child. If it feels like you’re making slow progress and you’re looking for more in-depth guidance through this challenging time, please check out our free online course, The Horizon Plan.


To access further guidance on supporting your child or teen, CLICK HERE for the Horizon Plan, our free online course.

The Youth Mental Health Foundation CIC is a non-profit with a free online course for parents supporting a young person struggling with mental health. Find out more by CLICKING HERE.



Written and illustrated by Asha Sullivan



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