School anxiety and refusal

What do you do when your child won’t go to school or is overly anxious about attending? It can be heart-breaking and frustrating for a parent to manage. Hopefully the information we provide and the signposting to professional agencies, will help.

School refusal is often known as school phobia. It can also be called emotionally-based school avoidance (EBSA) or anxiety-related absence. There is an element of fear for children who do not go to school, a feeling that they cannot cope. They might be anxious about schoolwork, exams, bullying, mental health issues, or struggling with relationships with friends or teachers. Some children feel out of step with their classmates: this is especially true of children who are young for their age and see all the others in their groups as older, more confident and more grown up.

Your child might be worried about things going on at home. Big life changes, family breakdown, mental illness or bereavement can all affect their sense of security and wellbeing, and some children worry that bad things will happen at home while they are at school.

It is normal for your child to occasionally feel worried about school or even say they don’t want to go on some days but the problem is when this builds up and becomes so severe that your child is unable to attend. For many children school refusal is a temporary state, but for some families it is more serious and you may need to seek support and advice.

If your child is struggling with school-related anxiety or refusal, it’s important to recognise the problem and work with them, the school and, if appropriate, other professionals to provide the right support as soon as possible.

Young Minds

What should you do?

  • Early intervention is important, as the longer children are away from school, the harder it can get for them to return
  • Reach out to the school as soon as you can. Ask to speak to your child’s teacher, pastoral team or Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo). Work with them and keep the dialogue open
  • Focus on talking, listening, emphasising and reassuring. They need your unconditional support and respect right now. If it is hard for you to talk to your child ( and this can be understandable), see if there is someone who can act as an intermediary, perhaps a sympathetic teacher or a family friend whose judgment you trust but who is not too close to the situation. Young people are more likely to have a heart-to-heart with somebody where there is no history of conflict and no emotional baggage.
  • Follow a routine. If your child’s reluctance is stemmed from anxiety, a calm, familiar routine can help with security and stress reduction
  • Once you — and the school perhaps — have come up with a plan, stick to it for at least half a term. It is important to have some consistency because that will increase the child’s sense of security and give them a routine. It also gives all parties the chance to evaluate the success of the strategy

If you are still having problems, then pupils who can’t attend mainstream school for a variety of reasons, including school refusal, are entitled by law to alternative provision which might be home education.