Rothman Center for Pediatric Neuropsychiatry

School Refusal

What is School Refusal?

A child exhibiting school refusal refuses to go to school on a regular basis or has difficulties staying in school. The child may complain of physical symptoms when it is time to leave for school or make frequent visits to the school nurse. Some children may refuse to leave the house on school mornings.

Parents and caregivers can implement several interventions before school refusal becomes a routine problem. Listening to the child’s concerns about school may help to identify the source of the child’s anxiety over school. One common technique is to say goodbye to the child at home and have someone else drop him or her off at school. Remember that it is important for the child to establish a regular routine; getting the child to school regularly as well as on time are both very important. It is also important to reassure the child that the parent will still be there upon returning home from school.

What are the causes of this condition?

Stressful events and major life changes may trigger the child’s refusal to attend school. Anxiety provoking situations that may contribute to school refusal may include: separating from a parent (separation anxiety), social situations, tests or other measures of achievement, moving, changing schools, death in the family, divorce or separation between parents, and academic problems.

School Refusal Symptoms

Children who refuse to go to school may complain of headaches, stomachaches, or other physical symptoms when it is time to leave for school. If at school, the child may make frequent requests to visit the school nurse. Once the child is assured they do not have to attend school that day, or are brought home from school, these symptoms disappear until it is time for them to leave for school the next morning.

  • Complaints of physical illness when it is time to leave for school
  • Frequent visits to the school nurse
  • Separation anxiety
  • Refusal to leave for school

School Refusal Treatment