School Refusal Strategies – Helping Your Teen Return to School

Is your child refusing to attend school, no matter how much you bargain, beg or fight them to go? School refusal is an issue where a teenager chooses not to attend school regularly. It can manifest as your child skipping one or two lessons a day, or can be so severe that they blatantly refuse to attend school for weeks at a time. 

School avoidance is incredibly stressful for both teens and parents alike. In this blog, I wanted to skim over some of the reasons that teenagers may refuse to go to school, and suggest a few strategies to encourage them back.  

Why Some Teenagers Refuse to Go to School: 

A lot of the time, school phobia is just as stressful for the teenager as it is for the parents. The reality is that most teens don’t want to potentially damage their future by skipping classes. 

Most often we see that students avoid school as a reaction to an underlying issue or stressor. Some common reasons for long-term school non-attendance include mental health, bullying, domestic violence or a stressful home life. There are teens that may also refuse to go to school as an act of rebellion, however this is usually a short-term attendance issue and shouldn’t have a long-term impact on their education. 

School refusal in Australia tends to be more common in the older years. Average attendance rates drop from over 87% for Year 7 students to just 82% for Year 10. It’s no coincidence then that as attendance drops, so do standardised test results like ATAR and NAPLAN. Encouraging your child to return to school is important for ensuring their continued academic success and future opportunities. 

School Refusal Strategies – How to Deal with Low Attendance: 

Encourage Them to Take Breaks: 

You can’t work full-time without a holiday, and it can be difficult for teens to give their all to their studies for 8-11 weeks straight. Experiencing a lack of motivation is common, and teens should be encouraged to express when they’re burning out and allow themselves a break. It’s important that in these moments, parents and counsellors help them identify their feelings and work out where the stressors are, or if there might be something else going on. Identifying the deeper cause of their emotions, and providing strategies to work through them, can vastly increase school attendance without adding unwanted pressure on your teen.  

Set Goals Together: 

Setting achievable, and realistic, goals with your teen can further encourage them to improve school attendance. It’s important to work together with your teen in the goal-setting process, as this allows for ownership and accountability. This should also help them stay motivitated and focused, as they’ll now have something concrete to work towards. By working together, you can also identify and solve any potential obstacles that may prevent your teen from reaching their goals, that they themselves may not have been aware of. 

Celebrate Small Victories: 

It’s important to acknowledge and celebrate even the smallest victories when it comes to school attendance. If your teen has been struggling with attendance but has made an effort to attend one day without being prompted, remember to praise them for their efforts. This positive reinforcement can go a long way in encouraging them to continue attending school.  

How to Get Professional Help: 

Sometimes, you can try absolutely everything in your power to encourage your teen to go to school and they’ll still refuse. In Australia, it’s a legal responsibility that each child attends school. While the odd day off may go unnoticed for a while, schools refer to these records and will contact parents if there becomes a cause for concern. It’s before it gets to this stage that seeking professional help from an empathetic, trusted counsellor will help get your child back on track and address any challenges that may be holding them back.

At Mindful Me, we resonate with teenagers and understand the challenges they face even when they do want to go to school, let alone when they do not. Our team of trained counsellors can work closely with your child to identify the cause of their school avoidance and develop effective strategies to overcome it. We believe in a holistic approach, liaising directly with your child’s school wellness coordinator and school counsellors, working together to gain a better understanding of how home and school life interconnect.

Our goal at Mindful Me is to empower your teen with the skills they need to overcome their school anxieties and thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.