Data that differentiates school refusal from other types of absences are hard to obtain, but anecdotally experiences of school refusal are rising. We heard from parents, carers, educators, well-being counsellors, and former students. Readers spoke of children whose ages ranged from kindergarten to high school; some are dealing with more than one child who can’t attend school.
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The stories we received were heartbreaking, sometimes funny, and always relatable. They showed the complexity of the issue and the many factors that can contribute to a child’s fear or anxiety around attending school.
Here are some of the stories readers shared.
‘It scarred us and changed us forever.’
For some parents, school refusal is a constant battle. One reader said her son had been “refusing school on and off since he was five years old”.
“Now he is 11. It scarred us and changed us forever,” they said. “We are currently in the middle of another battle to get him back to school after almost two months of full-blown refusal. He has good and bad days, but the anxiety wins most of the time. I feel so guilty and ashamed that I can’t fix this for him, even though I know it isn’t my fault.”
Another reader said her daughter had been refusing school since she was 2. “She is now in year 6. It’s a daily battle to get her there,” they said. “I have tried everything, and nothing has worked. I am at my wit’s end. She is an amazing kid when she is not at school.”
A common theme among the stories we received was the impact school refusal can have on the whole family. One reader said her nephew had refused school since he was seven.
“It has had a massive impact on him and our whole family,” they said. “He is now 11 years old and has missed so much education. He is behind all his peers, and it’s heartbreaking to see how this has affected him. He is a lovely boy who is full of life but has been held back by his anxiety. I hope one day he will be able to overcome this and have a bright future ahead of him.”
‘I was petrified of going to school.’
For some children, the fear of going to school can be so overwhelming that they cannot leave the house. One reader said her son had been “stuck at home” for almost two years.
“He is now 11 years old and in year 6,” they said. “He has missed out on so much education. I am petrified of him starting high school next year as the thought of him leaving home terrifies him.”
Others spoke of children who were so anxious they would vomit, have a seizure or wet themselves when trying to go to school. One reader said her daughter had been refusing school since she was in year two and “had multiple accidents at school and refused to eat or drink anything all day”.
‘It can be isolating.’
For .some parents, the guilt and isolation they feel can be overwhelming. One reader said her son had been refusing school for two years.
“It feels like I am the only one going through this,” they said. “I am constantly second-guessing myself and wondering if I am doing the right thing. I feel like I have failed as a parent.”
Another reader said her daughter had refused school since she was 5. “It has been an isolating experience,” they said. “I feel like I can’t talk to anyone about it because no one understands what we are going through.”
Some parents also spoke of the financial impact school refusal can have on families. One reader said her son had been refusing school for two years, and she had to quit her job to care for him full-time.
“It has been a financial burden on our family,” they said. “I have had to rely on government benefits to support us. I constantly worry about money and how we will make ends meet.”
‘There is no magic fix.’
For many parents, the journey back to school is long and difficult. One reader said her son had been refusing school since he was in year 3.
“It has been a battle every single day,” they said. “I have tried everything, but nothing has worked. I feel like I am failing as a parent. I want my son to be happy and enjoy his childhood like other kids his age.”
What do you think?
Have you or your child experienced school refusal? Share your experiences in the comments below.