My Daughter Is Refusing To Go To School

 Dear Mark, Thank you for your insight and for the help you offer. My daughter has problems with "school refusal". She is 15 and in ninth grade and we are in the last month of school. She has missed so much school and is now behind in her work with the threat of not getting credit for the year's work. She has been in a mental health facility for evaluation, (last week -- for seven days) getting new meds for severe depression, and getting her diabetes (high blood sugars) under control. (she has had diabetes since age 2). When Monday came around and it was expected of her to return to school (after two full weeks of absences) she would not get out of bed (again...same repeated behavior as before......... and then she sleeps all day for days). 

I went to the school and met with counselors, teachers, administrator etc and they have been very generous by sending home all of her work to complete at home -- just to finish out the month of May and get her credits. This is a wonderful generous offer from the school and now she will not have to attend school except to take tests. So when I (awakended) her and presented her with the good news of permission to finish the next three weeks on her own, she mumbled something and managed to get out of bed. 

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I told her she could come up with her own plan of study by making a daily schedule to follow. (she thrives on structure; but she wants to make her schedule so I gave her that choice so she could feel that she had some control of the home study. (She has a time limit on making up work placed by the time is of the essence) When I returned to the living room she was in front of the TV and I reminded her that she needed to be productive and get busy, and she said "not now" and kept watching TV. I told her she had to turn off the TV and get started with her school work, even if just planning her study sessions. She said, "I can start tomorrow" and ignored me. Well, I don't think she should be the one to decide "when" to start school with her being so behind. I got the TV control and blocked all TV watching with parental controls. She said "fine, I'll just sleep then" and went to bed again and has been asleep ever since. 

I have already taken away her cell phone and computer too .......from past episodes of disobedience or defiance. She doesn't care about her friends, so she says I can ground her for life or whatever, because she does not care. She has been sleeping for days and days until I had her hospitalized last week. She came home from the hospital with a new attitude. I was ecstatic. But come Monday morning, we're back in the bed....ignoring all responsibilites etc. This is her way of rebelling against my authority and ignoring my instructions. I have quit nagging, I promise. So now she just lays there. I am a single parent and the only authority figure in the home. I do I get her engaged into her own life again. K.


Hi K.,

First of all, I would caution you NOT to rush things. Please only do one session a week.

Having said that, school refusal, school avoidance, or school phobia, are terms used to describe the signs or anxiety a school-aged child has and his/her refusal to go to school. School refusal can be seen in three different types of situations, including the following:

· Distress

The final type of school refusal is seen in children who are truly distressed about leaving their parent and going to school. Usually, these children enjoy school but are too anxious about leaving their parents to attend.

· Fear

Older children may have school phobia based on a real fear of something that may happen to them at school, such as a bully or a teacher being rude. In this situation, it is important to talk with your child to determine what is causing his/her fears.

· Young children going to school for the first time

This is a normal type of school refusal. This develops with a child's normal separation anxiety, or uneasiness about leaving a parent figure. This type of fear usually goes away within a few days of the child attending school.

Since every child is unique, each situation will be handled on an individual basis. The following are some of the interventions that may be used to help your daughter:

· A referral to a child psychologist or psychiatrist may be necessary.

· Allow the child to speak and talk about her concerns and fears.

· Consider family counseling if other problems exist.

· Return the child to school. Make sure the school officials understand the situation and do not send the child home for the wrong reasons.

· Slowly separating the parent from the child in school may also be used. One approach is to have the parent sit with the child in the classroom at first, and then the parent may attend school, but sit in another room. Next, the parent may continue to get farther away.

Alternatively, you may want to consider an alternative school. Although you may be hard-pressed to document why your daughter needs to be in the alternative school now (as opposed to staying on the waiting list), I suggest that you request a core evaluation for her as guaranteed by federal law for any public school child who may have learning disabilities or special needs that warrant an alternative and/or specialized educational plan.

In your daughter's case, if you can provide convincing psychiatric documentation that she cannot be educated in this school system due to the stress she experiences, you may be able to have her placed in the alternative school as a result of her condition being deemed an educational special need. Get a therapist who has experience advocating for kids in this situation -- his testimony and reputation will play a major role in this plan.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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