Refusal to go to school


For most children, attending school means something new and special. They are happy, because they’ll make new friends, and experience and learn new things. Being a “pupil” normally makes the child feel grown up, mature and important. Apart from the usual complaints about having to wake up early, and too much homework, attending school is a positive experience. However, there are exceptions. About 10% of children, usually of pre-school and school age, refuse to go to school. For every child, starting school means the beginning of daily separation from his or her mother, and the family environment in general, for several hours. This change may cause insecurity, fear, fear of failure, and symptoms include pain in the abdomen, dizziness, vomiting, headache etc. Of course, these symptoms disappear the moment parents allow the child to remain at home, and reappear only the next morning. If the child feels unwell, and doesn’t want to go to school because he is afraid, or due to ‘separation anxiety’, then this is a school phobia.

The child panics because he has to leave the home, and not because he has to go to school, where he is usually calm.

Depending on the case, children who don’t want to go to school fall into the following groups:

1. Children who will be attending school for the first time, and refuse to go.
It is rational for children who are going to school for the first time to be concerned about the new environment, but they are also probably concerned about leaving the safety provided by their home. A child’s refusal to go to school when attending for the first time is not a cause for particular concern, however, if it is prolonged, parents should investigate the causes of this behaviour.

2. Children who have had a negative first experience of violent transition to school.
Parents should not use unfair means, such as forcing them to go to school, because the child will likely form a negative picture of school in general.

3. Children who have already been to school, and at the beginning of the new school year (as probably during the previous one) refuse to go.

After school holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, but mainly the summer holidays, children become closer to their mothers and the home, and this results in a possible refusal to go when school starts again.

4. Children who refuse to go to school in the middle of the school year, and not after a period of absence due to school holidays, or illness, may be dealing with anxiety problems. This anxiety may originate from a stressful event, such as moving house, change of school, loss of a relative, phobias, and, in general, a noticeable change in the child’s daily routine. Such a change may unsettle the child’s sense of security, and, thus, may be an anxiety-causing factor. However, there could always be a school factor causing the refusal, and which the teacher may not have noticed.

The child’s refusal doesn’t necessarily mean inability to adjust to the school situation. It’s a good idea for parents to prepare their child for integration into his new environment, by getting acquainted with his new teacher and the school itself together with the child, so that the transition from home to school is made smoothly.

A longer term refusal by the child to go to school may have negative results, such as socialization problems and learning difficulties. In cases where the child’s refusal to go to school has become a permanent situation, collaboration with the teacher, and help from a specialist are necessary.

The child panics because he has to leave home, and not because he has to go to school, where he is usually calm.

Panagiotis Samaras
Mphil, PgDip, BSc Hons
Teacher – Psychologist


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