School Refusal/School Avoidance

  • There are about 2-5% of students who refuse to attend school every year. This was referred to as "school phobia" in the past, but is most recently referred to as school refusal or school avoidance. Typically, school refusal is due to feelings of anxiety or depression. School refusal differs from truancy. Truancy is what occurs when students are not attending school and hiding this information from their parents. Truant students do not experience anxiety about school, but rather prefer to be involved in other activites that they find more enjoyable than school. 

    Students can experience school refusal due to (but not limited to):

    • Separation anxiety 
    • Social anxiety 
    • Performance anxiety 
    • Test anxiety 
    • Athletic competition
    • Academic difficulties 
    • Depressed mood
    • Irritable mood 
    • Not getting along with peers 
    • Low self-esteem 


    Common Warning Signs 

    • Frequent requests to call home
    • Frequent requests to go to the nurse's office because of physical complaints
    • Frequent unexcused asbsences or tardiness
    • Difficulty or resistace in getting out of bed in the morning
    • Depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, or irritability 



  • Addressing school refusal that is based on emotional reasons can be a challenging task for both parents and educators. Parents and school staff can work as a team to ensure a child attends school and receives the appropriate support. Educators can help create a welcoming and supportive enviroment for the child at school and provide academic support if school refusal stems from academic difficulties. Parents can help with strategies such as reinforcing positive behavior (participation efforts) and monitoring their child's attendance. 



    • Anxiety Disorder Association of America, Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents, school refusal or avoidance: children&Adolescents/sra.asp
    • National Institute of Mental Health: http://www.nimh.