Handling a Child Who Won't Go to School

    • Take your child’s complaints seriously. Remember that a fear of school is a sign that something potentially destructive is happening in your child’s life.

    • Talk to your child not only about what’s happening in the classroom, but also what’s happening outside the classroom. Is there someone threatening him on the bus? Have other children been teasing him on the playground? Is he being picked on in the bathroom? Often bullying takes place in locations out of sight of teachers. 

    • You should also look at what changes have recently taken place at home that might be upsetting or frightening your child. Having a seriously ill grandparent can make a child worry (unrealistically) that if he goes to school, he won’t be available to save that person if there’s a medical emergency. If his parents are considering a divorce, a child may view acting sick as a way to get them back together. Underlying family issues are often the cause of school avoidance. Parents must deal with them in order to improve school attendance. 

    • Focus your talks on your child’s emotions rather than what’s frightening him. Acknowledge his feelings without criticizing them. Reassure him that you accept him even if he’s frightened. Pay extra attention to your child’s nonverbal signals. Instead of directly asking what he’s afraid of, ask him what he did all day. Look for when his eyes avoid you or look down at the ground.

    • If there’s a real basis for his fears, such as a bully taking his money or older children threatening him, talk to the teacher and the principal. School should be a safe haven for children.

    • The bottom line in any treatment is that children have to go to school. Some doctors suggest that the only time a child should stay home is when he has a fever above 100 °F or has an observable medical problem like a rash. If your child’s mystery illness clears up by midmorning, bring him to school at that time, rather than waiting until the next day.