School Life

School or College Avoidance

Children can sometimes feel very anxious about something that's happening at school. If that anxiety builds up, they might feel unable to attend school and this is known as avoidance.

Dealing with this can be very tricky for parents. It is very hard to see your child unhappy and upset and trying to persuade them to go to school in the mornings becomes a real challenge. Even if you get them to school, you might worry about how they will cope - and you know you will probably face the same situation the next day.

There can be lots of different reasons why your child doesn't want to go to school, so it's a good idea to try and understand what is making them feel that way.

Dive Deeper

What Causes School or College Avoidance?

There are lots of different reasons why children and young people might feel anxious about school or college. It could be;

  • If they are starting a new school, they might be worried about making new friends and fitting in.
  • It might be to do with the work at school. They might find it hard to understand, or feel that they are not getting on with a particular teacher.
  • Sometimes, something that has happened outside school can unsettle them. This could be a bereavement, an illness in the family or being a young carer.
  • Children and young people who are experiencing mental health difficulties may find it difficult to cope. 
  • Being bullied could also make them feel unable to go to school.
  • If your child has additional needs, they might find school stressful, particularly if they are not receiving the right support or their needs are not being met.

Some young people may find the school or college environment distressing to be in if their needs are not being supported or understood, and react to this by avoiding the setting. This can apply to any young person who may not already have established or recognised needs.

It is important to try to understand what is causing your child to feel anxious about school so that you can begin to support your child, along with their school and SENCO who can think about what their needs are and what support or adjustments they can offer. This collaborative approach can help to form a supportive plan going forward. 

Signs That Your Child Might Be Anxious About School Or College

Apart from saying they can't to school, there are other ways your child might display their anxiety.

They might have trouble sleeping, or be very reluctant to get out of bed and get ready for school. Anxiety could affect them physically and they might feel sick or have stomach aches or headaches.

You might notice that their schoolwork suffers and their grades drop, or that they seem unhappy or have low moods and increased worries. Other mood changes could include getting unusually angry or upset, or showing high levels of distress before and after school.

Worrying too much about small issues, such as having the right equipment, is another possible sign of anxiety. 

Will I Get Into Trouble If My Child Doesn't Go To School?

School or college should be supportive if you explain the problem and show that you are doing everything that you can to help. If that is the case, you should not have to worry about fines or prosecution for your child missing school.

If the absence continues, an Education Welfare Officer from the local council may need to get involved. They may need to carry out a home visit and discuss ways of supporting your child to access education.

You can also talk to Norfolk Early Help who are a family support service offering advice and information which can help you to begin making a supportive plan, along with support from your child's school.

Helping Your Child Overcome Their Anxiety

The first step is to work out what is causing your child to miss school or college.

Talk to them and try to identify what the problem is. Be patient and relaxed and don't worry if they struggle to talk about their feelings to start with.

It can help to do a simple exercise like creating a mind map to express their worries. You can do this by writing the word school in the centre of a large piece of paper and then writing all the things they find difficult about school around the outside.

Speaking To The School Or College

It's important to communicate with the school and ask for their help.

Start by asking for a meeting with the class teacher or tutor group lead. You could also speak to the pastoral lead, attendance team or the school’s SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinator).

  • Write down what you want to say at the meeting and tell the school what your child is struggling with. You can also ask if the school have noticed that your child is having difficulties.
  • Explain what you would like to change and ask the school what they can do to help.
  • Make a note of any changes that you agree to and follow it up afterwards by sending an email, so that the school know what you are expecting to happen. You could also ask about an Individual Education Plan, which will make sure that any adjustments are applied across all of your child's lessons.
  • Arrange a follow-up meeting so that you can check if things have improved after a while. 

If you don't receive the help you were hoping for, don't be afraid to try someone else at the school, such as the head teacher. If you need to escalate your concerns further, you could try the school governors, the academy trust or the local education authority.

Who can Help?

Your child’s school will be sensitive to their needs and are there to help all pupils. If you are worried give the school a call to talk about how they can help your child.

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text ChatHealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.

Kooth is a free, confidential and safe way to receive online counselling, advice and emotional well-being support for 11–25 year olds. 

Norfolk Early Help and Suffolk Early Help are family support services by local councils who can give advice and information to help to devise a supportive plan alongside other services. 

Norfolk SENDIASS and Suffolk SENDIASS are information, advice and support services for children, young people and parents/carers about special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). This includes health and social care where it is linked to education.

To speak to other Norfolk parents and carers, you can join our online community forum below.

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