How to Help a Child Overcome School Refusal

Tantrums to avoid school are a symptom of a bigger problem.

School refusal can wreak havoc on families. More often than not, it comes in the form of tantrums; loud, overwhelming meltdowns that can include refusing to leave the house, running down the street to avoid getting in the car or on the school bus, or lashing out with physical blows. School refusal isn’t just a child whining about yet another long day at school. School refusal can be downright distressing, for kids and their parents.

Each school year, approximately 2 to 5 percent of children refuse to attend school due to anxiety or depression. Once referred to as “school phobia,” school refusal includes students with mild cases of separation anxiety who miss a few days here and there to students who miss weeks or even months of school because of severe anxiety or depression.

School refusal is a serious emotional problem that is stressful for both children and parents can result in significant short and long-term effects on the social, emotional, and academic development of the child.

Unlike truancy, students who engage in school refusal aren’t simply ditching classes in favor of more exciting activities or hiding their absences from their parents. Although the behavior exhibited when students refuse to walk into the school or get into the car might feel manipulative to the exhausted parent attempting to get the child to school, it isn’t. School refusal is triggered by underlying mental health issues that require treatment and support.

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