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Emotionally based school avoidance

Is your child or young person experiencing difficulties attending school?

There are a number of reasons why a child or young person might be finding it difficult to attend school. These typically involve a mix of factors to do with the school environment, the child or young person themselves and family/home factors that can mean that the child does not want to attend school or feel safe at school.

Sometimes, the child or young person might be avoiding uncomfortable feelings such as anxiety that is brought on by attending school. They might be avoiding situations that feel too stressful or they might find the school environment overwhelming.

Although a certain level of anxiety is considered a normal and natural part of growing up, some children and young people may experience heightened levels of anxiety which impact their functioning and school experiences.

For some, school can be more challenging and children and young people with SEND or additional needs are more likely to be persistently absent from schools. Children who are neurodivergent and children who experience difficulties with their mental health are also more likely to be persistently absent.

Possible indicators that a child is experiencing difficulties attending school 

There can be a variety of signs or indications that a child or young person is having difficulty attending school. 

Below is a list of some of the early warning signs that a child might display, but there can be many others:  

  • pleading to go home
  • difficulty separating from parents e.g. reluctance to leave parents to get out of the car/at the school gate 
  • refusing to go into certain lessons or not going to their classroom
  • lateness
  • a change in attendance and/or punctuality
  • frequent absence for minor illnesses
  • patterns in absences e.g. particular days
  • reluctant to leave home and stays away from school with or without the knowledge of parent/carer
  • expresses a desire to attend classes but is unable to do so
  • speaking negatively about school
  • changes in behaviour
  • presenting as more anxious or with low mood
  • physical signs linked to stress (e.g. stomach ache, sickness, headache)

What can you do if your child is finding it difficult to attend school?

At the first sign that your child is experiencing uncomfortable emotions around attending school, contact the school and identify a key person there (often the SENCo or Head of Year). Maintain open, regular communication with them. Whilst this is happening, reassure your child that you and this person are working together to find a good way forward.

Talk to family and friends or seek out people in a similar situation to talk to.

Encourage your child to share their thoughts and concerns with you. Find time to listen to them without judgement or trying to ‘fix’ things.

Work with your child, and any other adults supporting them, to find techniques that support them to feel calm and regulated. 

This might include:

  • relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises 
  • mindfulness exercises such as the 5 Senses activity (notice 5 things that you can see, 4 things that you can touch, 3 things that you can hear, 2 things that you can smell and 1 thing that you can test)
  • drawing/writing their worries down

Where can I find further support?  

Information about support services can be found on the WNC Local Offer. There is a wealth of information on the webpages and in the directory of services.

The Local Offer also has a social media presence and produces a newsletter each term for children with additional needs and disabilities.

The Local Offer identifies those services that can support families where the child or young person is struggling to attend school.

Last updated 21 May 2024