We are so glad you found our site. If your child is suffering with School Refusal, we want you to know there is hope. Although, you may feel alone in this struggle, you will see that others walk or have walked in your shoes.
We understand how your child’s pain is compounded by the lack of understanding among your friends, family, school district and your difficulty to find a solution.
Please realize there is hope that can be found in the form of:
competent psychologists, psychiatrists, treatment programs, educational advocates, Special Education Lawyers, private schools, boarding schools, Therapeutic Day Schools, Therapeutic Boarding Schools and of course support and empathy from fellow parents who understand your daily plight.
There are also free and low cost community resources available for mental health. Try googling your county or state name with "mental health resources" or "mental health services".
Our wish is to help families who are dealing with their child’s School Refusal by providing support, information and resources to help your child get better and back to a school environment.
Anything you could share about your child’s situation will surely help another family. Please post in our School Refusal Community, so others can see that they are not alone and we can help one another. Questions, comments, advice, resources are all welcome.
What to Do If Your Child Has School Refusal by Jayne Demsky, March 17, 2016
You are dreading tomorrow morning. Not because you have to go to a job you may hate, but you are worried that you won’t be able to get your child out to school. It has happened a few times before and you don’t know when it will happen again. Possibly your child is in full blown school refusal and hasn’t been to school for consecutive days or weeks. I am sorry you are going through this because I have lived it and I know it is scary and all consuming.
If this sounds like your current situation, then I would like to offer some suggestions on where to start getting help.
- Call your school and let them know what is going on.
I would call the School Psychologist or ask for a member of the Child Study Team. The child study team (CST) is usually made up of the school psychologist, a social worker, a case manager and sometimes a learning specialist. Their role is to assist children who qualify for special education. Don’t get confused with the term special education. Special Education also encompasses children who are diagnosed with an emotional disability (depression, general anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder). Of course special education also includes children with learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, children on the spectrum and children who may have a physical disability. The CST is supposed to work with parents, students and teachers to help accommodate the student’s disability. Your child has the right to be able to access education as illustrated through the federal Special Education Law called the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). Your ultimate goal may be to get a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for your child. These plans can include; modifications of work, extended deadlines, study guides, audio/visual technologies, cooperative classes that have a special education teacher to assist the head teacher and/or visits to the school social worker or psychologist.
- Schedule a meeting with them to see how they may help you.
Afterwards you may want to request a psychiatric evaluation and/or psychological evaluation as well. This may be needed to start the ball rolling toward getting an IEP or 504 plan. When requesting anything like an evaluation, please put it in writing via email or mail so there is a time stamp. Special Education laws require school districts to respond to requests within specific time frames.
Try your hardest to get them into the school building. I really do hate to add this because of course you have tried to get your kid back to school! And when you hear a friend or family member say “Just get them to school” like it’s no big deal, it makes you just want to scream. The only reason I add this is because all the therapists and psychiatrists I have ever spoken to about this, say try whatever you can. The longer they stay away, the harder it is to return. Our middle school actually first sent the assistant principal and the school nurse to my house once to get my son out of the door. Another time they sent his guidance counselor and the second and the last time they actually sent a policeman in uniform. All those situations broke my heart and made me sick to watch them try to coerce him. I question if it was worth it. They did get him to go with them those times, but it did not solve the problem. Long term school refusal soon kicked in. But if your child isn’t in crisis, and you may have support from professionals at his school, being tough and determined may help get them back into the school building.
- Find a qualified Psychologist and Psychiatrist.
School Refusal in itself is not an emotional disorder but is a symptom of one. Your child needs help and support learning how to handle or overcome his emotional challenges. The most common causes of school refusal are General Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Separation Anxiety. Be selective when searching for a therapist and psychiatrist. Make sure to include asking them what percentage of their practice has dealt with school refusal. Ask them what form of treatment they specialize in. You may choose to focus on a psychologist who practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT works to solve current problems and change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. CBT is often cited as the best therapy for anxiety and OCD. You may also want to consider a therapist who is trained in Exposure Response Therapy. ERP focuses on gradual exposures to anxiety inducing stimuli and situations. It is usually done in a hierarchy of least to most anxiety producing situations so the individual can build their strength and success.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is also effective in treating anxiety and school refusal. It is based on four skills modules which include two sets of acceptance oriented skills (mindfulness and distress tolerance) and two sets of change oriented skills (emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness).
You can also find free or low cost mental health assistance through community resources. Sometimes this is offered from the county in which you live in or your state. I would try a google search like “(your county name here) mental health assistance” or “(your state name here mental health services, or mental health resources).
Try to remember that there is hope that you child will get back to a school setting. There are resources and professionals to help, you just have to be determined and unrelenting to find the best help for your child.