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I Don't Want to Go to School!

Does your child get “sick” when it’s time to go to school? Do you suspect that her symptoms may be imagined? Does her illness only occur during the week? If you suspect that your child is making up symptoms or coming up with excuses to avoid going to school, your child may be experiencing what is called “school avoidance,.” a phenomenon that, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, about 5% of children experience.

Reasons Kids Avoid School

You may be surprised to hear some of the reasons that children avoid school. Remember, that children tend to look at things in different ways than adults. While an adult's reason for avoidance of certain situations is often based on the task, children's avoidance is often based on social issues, such as the following:

  • Problems being bullied at school
  • No one to sit with in the school cafeteria
  • Anxiety over using public restroom facilities
  • Perceived humiliation by teacher or others at school

Talk About School Problems with your Child

Always rule out true physical symptoms before tackling school avoidance. If there is no physical reason your child should be “sick,” talk to her about why she may feel she has to avoid school. Ask her seemingly innocuous questions like:

  • How was lunch today? What did you have? Who do you usually sit with?
  • How is your math coming? I know you said you didn't understand some things. Is that getting better?
  • How was the bus ride home? Is it crowded or are you always able to sit in the spot you want?

Engage your child in conversations that draw out her feelings about school. Have a conversation while driving to the store, on the way home from school, or while having dinner. Talk about someone else's child you know. Some children are reluctant to talk about themselves, but will readily open up about others. If your child has problems opening up to you, consider asking her to tell you three things that happened that day; but one of them is made up. You then have to guess which one is made up. You can then talk about the made-up scenario. If you don’t feel you’re getting to the root of the problem, seek the help of a school professional. Start with your child's teacher or teachers. Maybe the teacher can make adjustments in seating arrangements or classroom procedures, or maybe transferring out of a particular class is warranted. Talk to other parents to uncover news about issues that may be happening at school. Encourage your child to join groups at school where she might find friends. Avoiding school is typically the sign of a deeper issue. Figuring it out is not always easy, but sometimes just understanding that you have to dig a little bit to find out the underlying problem is a help in itself.