What do I do if my teen refuses to go to school?

Are you having a case of school refusal in your home? Help is at hand with these 6 tips from ReachOut

The battle to get your kids up and ready for school is as old as time. But what can you do if your child’s resistance appears to be more than just wanting a few extra minutes under the doona? If your teen seems worried or anxious or is completely resisting going to school, there may be underlying issues that you need to be aware of.

School refusal is often associated with stress about a certain aspect of school, such as a difficult subject, relationships with their teachers, or issues among their classmates. It can also stem from anxiety about being away from home and the family.

Although you might feel at a loss about how to reverse the situation, there are plenty of things you can do to get through this with your teenager. We’ve put together six tips to help you work through school refusal and get the best outcome for your family.

  1. Talk to your teen about the underlying reason for their school refusal

Getting to the heart of the problem is key to improving the situation for you and your teen. Kids need to feel listened to and supported by their parents. Opening up a regular and safe line of communication between you will help your teen to work through whatever is going on, keep you in the know, and start the process that will see things improve. ReachOut has a number of great resources to help you navigate having complex conversations with your kids.

  1. Acknowledge that school is tough

According to Lucy Clark, mother, author and senior editor with The Guardian newspaper in Australia, school is a much more difficult environment for today’s teens than it was for their parents.

‘People my age think school was pretty easy because it actually was for us and our generation. It’s really changed … There is so much pressure. I think if you can embrace the idea that it is nowhere as easy as it was for you and to understand that it is much more difficult then that is the beginning of understanding.’

This divide in experience between us and our children can lead to even greater stress for your teen, and to conflict at home. Taking the time to acknowledge that your child’s experience may be wildly different from your own can make a huge difference in how they feel.

  1. Devise a plan for tackling these issues

While your teen may feel better for having someone listen to their worries, it can often be more helpful to come up with a practical way to move forward. Work together to devise a plan to manage their anxiety or deal with the issues head-on.

For instance, it may be important to help them create a safe haven that they can retreat to whenever their day gets too difficult. Hopefully, this place will be your home – so do what you can to remove any stressors from your home environment. According to Lucy Clark:

‘It’s a simple but hard thing to do for a lot of parents and that is just taking the pressure off at home. They’re getting it at school. Home needs to be a haven. They need to come home, and feel that it’s not just a continuation of the pressure they’ve been getting all day.’

  1. Involve the school

While the school will have noticed your child’s absence, they may not be aware of the underlying cause. Arrange a meeting with a teacher, the principal, the year coordinator or Wellbeing staff to fill them in on what’s going on. Depending on the cause of your child’s stress, the school staff may be the only people who can make the necessary changes. If the first person you speak to isn’t able or willing to help, keep contacting people until you get someone in your corner.

  1. Make an appointment with your GP

If you feel that your teen could use more support, suggest taking them to speak to their GP. The doctor might refer your child to a mental health professional who will work with you both. They can help your child develop skills to manage their stress or anxiety and build up the necessary strength to return to school.

  1. Check out the legal stuff

While taking the occasional day off to reset and recharge is okay, regularly avoiding school may actually be against the law. Lengthy and unexplained absences can come with hefty penalties for your family. Check out the Lawstuff website for more information on your legal responsibilities.

We understand that there’s a lot to manage when it comes to parenting teenagers. It’s important that while you’re helping them, you’re also taking care of yourself. If you feel you could use a bit of extra support, try signing up for ReachOut Parents One-on-One Support and get some individualised advice. You can also learn all about making self-care a family priority, which can really help you all to take time out.

Need more?

ReachOut is Australia’s leading online mental health organisation for young people and their parents. Their practical support, tools and tips help young people get through anything from everyday issues to tough times – and the information they offer parents makes it easier for them to help their teenagers, too.

  • Get some one-on-one support through ReachOut Parents One-on-One Support.
  • Get tips for tackling the school system confidently from Lucy Clark, mother and author of Beautiful Failures.
  • Join the ReachOut Parents forums to talk to other parents about their experiences with school refusal.