School refusal is a common behaviour among children and youth of school-going age. While it is a behaviour, it would be helpful to reframe it as an emotional response to external stressor(s) and an underdeveloped capacity to regulate distress. The causal factors that lead to refusing school may be singular or multifactorial, including but not limited to peer issues/school bullying, academic difficulties, low self-esteem, relational difficulties with school teachers, depression, anxiety, and others. Family issues can also be a contributing factor, such as when parents are undergoing divorce or significant life changes/events at home (e.g., death of loved ones, grief, etc.).


1. Avoid blaming or punishing the child.

To blame, scold, or punish without listening to the child would make things worse. What would be helpful is to remind yourself that school refusal is an emotional response, not an indication of your child’s character or personality.

2. Set aside time to listen and respond to the child’s emotional needs.

For example, a child may say, “I hate school!”, “I don’t want to go to school!” Parents/caregivers may respond empathetically with, “That sounds really difficult” or “That is a difficult feeling to have.” Understanding and being interested in your child is not the same as condoning any negative behaviours. It is to give your child a chance to share what is going on in his/her life, to let your child know that you have his/her back.

3. Help your child develop the skills to regulate his/her feelings.

The most important thing that parents can do is to help their children label their feelings. Labelling feelings reduces the uncertainty and intensity of the feelings. Provide your child with the words to label their feelings, such as sad, nervous, anger, disappointment, and shame.

4. Establish a close collaboration with the school.

Establishing a close collaboration and alliance with school teachers and staff is essential in providing context and opportunity to address what challenges or difficulties your child may be going through in school. A referral to the school counsellor may also be helpful to assist in exploring and supporting children with school refusals.

5. Consult a child psychologist early.

A comprehensive clinical assessment can help identify and manage the causal and/or contributing factors leading to school refusal. A child psychologist is trained to assist in developing emotional regulation skills and to provide a comprehensive back-to-school plan to support healthy emotional and school functioning.
Beron Tan
Senior Psychologist
Private Space Medical