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School refusal

School refusal

School refusal is when a child doesn’t want to go to school, refuses to attend school or feels emotional distress (feels fear or anxiety) about going to school. School refusal can occur at any time, but is more likely to occur when children start primary school, children transition to high school and during high school years. The most common underlying factor of school refusal is anxiety.

Signs that your children might be school refusing

If your child is school refusing, s/he might:

  • Speak negatively about school
  • Refuse to get out of bed in the morning
  • Indicate that they feel unwell (e.g., headaches)
  • Have physical feelings of anxiety (e.g., racing or pounding heart, body temperature increase or decrease, dizziness, tightness in his/her chest, shortness of breath, trembling/shaking, nausea, exhausted or excess of energy)
  • Express fears, worries or concerns relating to school
  • State that they want to stay home with you
  • Display challenging behaviours before school to delay leaving (e.g., having tantrums, being argumentative, being non-compliant, etc.)
  • Struggle to separate from you before school
  • Refuse to get out of the car at school
  • Frequently arrive late to school
  • Frequently go to sick bay at school
  • Frequently come home early from school
  • Frequently stay home from school

Reasons for school refusal

Children who school refuse usually have an underlying emotional concern, such as:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Children may school refuse if they are having social problems at school, such as:

  • Being bullied
  • Having trouble making and maintaining friendships
  • Finding it difficult to get along with a teacher

Children may school refuse if their learning needs are not being met. As a result they may be experiencing a range of emotional and social concerns. If your child is school refusing, he/she may:

  • Have a learning disorder such as dyslexia or dyscalculia
  • Be gifted

Children may school refuse if they are experiencing family stress, such as:

  • Having an illness that has required them to be away from school
  • A close family member or friend having an illness
  • The death of a family member or friend
  • Parents separating or divorcing
  • A traumatic event
  • Moving to a new home

Concerns for school-refusing children

When children school refuse, they have an underlying concern or issue that isn’t being addressed. Their underlying concerns or issues must be identified and addressed so that they can feel like they are understood and that their needs are being met. Once their needs are met, it is imperative that they return to school as quickly as possible.

Chronic school-refusing children are at great risk of falling substantially behind their peers in their education and feeling socially isolated from their peers. The ultimate risk for school refusing children is early school leaving. Early school leavers are at risk of a range of negative life outcomes, including: lower health outcomes, lower life satisfaction, lesser likelihood of participating in formal education, greater likelihood of experiencing extended periods of unemployment, greater likelihood of experiencing limited career paths, greater likelihood of being reliant on government assistance and greater likelihood of being involved in criminal behaviour.


During your first session we meet with you and your child and conduct a clinical interview to identify your child’s underlying emotional and social concerns and to develop a personalised, evidence-based treatment plan. For more detailed information on what to expect in your first session with us, please visit our Appointments page.

During your first session, we might decide to conduct assessments (in future appointments) if we believe that underlying educational concerns might be impacting your child’s well being. For more detailed information on the assessments that we conduct, please visit our Assessments page.

If your child is school refusing and you would like us to help, please contact us to schedule an appointment.


Individual treatment

If your child is school refusing, we can use a number of approaches to treat your child’s underlying emotional, social and/or educational concerns, such as:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (for treating anxiety and depression),
  • Exposure-response therapy (for treating fear and anxiety),
  • Social skills training (intervention for social deficits, social isolation and help in making and maintaining friendships),
  • Assertiveness training (for bullying),
  • Reading intervention (for dyslexia) and/or
  • Acceleration options (for giftedness).

Parenting strategies

If your child is school refusing, we can help you to understand your child’s underlying concerns. We can also help you to develop parenting strategies to help you to understand your role in and the steps you can take to help to address your child’s concerns. We can also help you to develop a return-to-school plan and provide you with strategies to implement your return-to-school plan.

Schooling strategies

If your child is school refusing, we can help you to work with your child’s school to help them to implement a return-to-school plan. Our return-to-school plans incorporate a number of important facets, such as: developing a communication strategy between you and your child’s school, dealing directly with any underlying social or educational concerns at school, providing relevant teaching staff with psycho-education so that they understand your child’s emotional concerns and providing teaching staff with strategies and suggesting possible curriculum modifications to meet your child’s needs.

If you would like us to help your school refusing child, please contact us to schedule an appointment.