Wood's Homes Blog

School avoidance: Tips for parents

March 01, 2018
By Nicolle Plumb, Wood's Homes Family Support Counsellor II
School avoidance: Tips for parents

‘I hate school’ and ‘I am not going’ are some phrases commonly used by some children. For many parents, these phrases can cause feelings of dread and frustration, especially when they realize they’re going to be late for work and/or their child is going to be late for school. Parents often feel they are the only ones who deal with these daily battles but sadly, this is not the case. Some children, regardless of age, refuse to attend school and their parents are desperate for answers as to why this is happening.

Reasons for school avoidance:

According to AnxietyBC (2017), children and youth typically refuse – or attempt to refuse – to attend school for four distinct reasons:

  1. To escape from school situations that cause distress (e.g. riding on the school bus, a teacher or particular class, and camp or school concert)
  2. To escape from unpleasant social or performance situations (e.g. playing or working with peers, speaking or reading in front of the class or attending assemblies)
  3. To get attention from others (e.g. to spend time with a parent)
  4. To pursue fun activities outside of school (e.g. to be home alone sleeping, watching TV or playing video games)

Children may avoid school for one or all four of the above reasons. To get a better understanding of why children don’t want to go to school, it’s important that parents talk with their children about daily school routines, teachers, grades and social pressures.

Signs of school avoidance:

It is normal for children to miss some days of school during the year (truancy); however, school avoidance is a more persistent problem that might be characterized by some of the following signs:

  • Crying before school or repeated pleas to stay at home
  • Throwing tantrums or running away before school
  • Frequently complaining about illness before or during school (e.g. stomach aches or headaches)
  • Difficulty attending school after weekends or holidays
  • Absences and/or missed classes for which no explanation is given
  • Frequently late for school

Working with the school:

One way parents can encourage school attendance is to establish regular communication with their child’s school community, and to seek help from teachers, school counsellors and/or other parents. It’s important that teachers have a way to contact parents and vice versa. In addition to challenges, regular communication allows for opportunities to share successes when a child is doing well. So often, parents only contact the school community when problems arise. By working with the school community, parents may feel less alone and, more importantly, their child will hear the message that school is a priority and everyone is invested in their educational success.

Parent tips for school attendance:

  1. Help instil the value of staying in school and graduating by talking with your child about the importance of education.
  2. Provide opportunities for learning outside of school through clubs and/or extracurricular activities.
  3. Continue to be a role model; keep learning through reading, studying or taking courses.
  4. Nurture your child’s interests, whether they are in music, science, reading, sports, computers, etc.
  5. Make it less fun to be at home. If your child knows they can sit at home and play video games during the school day, the incentive to stay at home is greater than the incentive to be at school. Parents should create a school attendance contract, set clear expectations and boundaries, and make going to school a priority.

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer as to why a child may be refusing to attend school, but exploring some of the above possible reasons can help. The more days that a child misses of school, the harder it is to get them back into it. It’s important that parents talk to the school community, call on other parents for support, and/or reach out to teachers and counsellors for advice if they are dealing with school avoidance.