School Avoidance: A Guide for Parents

Boy walks across school field

Boy walks across school field

Since the pandemic, school avoidance (also known as school refusal) has been on the rise, with ‘persistent absence’ almost doubling since pre-Covid level according to the Department for Education. If you’re a parent or carer navigating school avoidance, you’re not alone. 

Children and teens who resist attending school regularly can find significant disruption to their education, social development and wellbeing, so it is an issue that many parents want to act on.  

Whether your child is outright refusing to attend school or shows signs of distress or depression when confronted with school attendance, there are positive actions families can take to support a pathway back to regular attendance. 

This short guide from Children North East shares some expert guidance and techniques to support your child or teen avoiding school. 

Establish a safe environment for communication 

Create a safe space at home where your child feels comfortable expressing their concerns about school. Encourage open dialogue without judgment, and actively listen to their worries and fears. Assure them that their feelings are valid and that you are there to support them every step of the way. 

Explore the causes, not just the symptoms 

Work together with your child to identify the underlying reasons behind their reluctance to attend school. Are they experiencing bullying, academic struggles, social anxiety or other stressors? Understanding the root causes is crucial in developing effective solutions tailored to your child’s needs. 

Work with the school 

Reach out to their teachers and other support staff to discuss your child’s situation and explore what help might be available. This could be informal adjustments or access to dedicated support services. Request a meeting to develop a plan that addresses your child’s needs and keep regular communication with school staff to understand developments. 

Establish a consistent routine 

Consistency and structure can help alleviate anxiety and provide a sense of stability for children experiencing school avoidance. Establish a daily routine that includes regular mealtimes, bedtime rituals, and time to relax doing things they enjoy. Consistency fosters a sense of predictability and security, which can be comforting for children experiencing emotional distress. 

Set achievable goals 

Break down the process of returning to school into manageable steps and set achievable goals with your child. Start with small milestones, such as attending school for part of a day or taking part in a favourite activity.  

Support them to develop coping strategies 

Equip your child with practical coping strategies to manage their anxiety and stress. There are lots of great resources you can access online such as through Coping Skills For Kids, Anna Freud and the Red Cross Self-Kindness Toolkit are good places to start. 

Encourage peer support 

Encourage your child to build positive relationships with classmates by arranging playdates, promoting group activities, or taking outings where they can socialise in a relaxed setting outside of school. Connecting with understanding friends can help reduce feelings of isolation and increase their sense of belonging.

Monitor progress and adjust as you go 

Keep track of your child’s progress in overcoming school avoidance and be prepared to change strategies as needed. Reflect on changes in their behaviour or wellbeing and seek professional guidance if you notice persistent difficulties.   

Celebrate every step 

Celebrating each success along the way, no matter how small, can reinforce positive behaviour and boost your child’s confidence. Offer words of encouragement, praise their efforts, and remind them of their strengths and resilience.  

If you’re a parent or carer and need support with School Avoidance or other mental health related challenges experienced by your child or teen, our Ways to Wellbeing programme has been developed to support you to better understand children and young people’s emotional development and to explore subjects related to mental health and wellbeing such as anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and eating disorders.  

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