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School Refusal Behavior In Teens

teen displaying school refusal behaviors

Raising teens isn’t easy, as adolescents navigate relationships, learn who they are becoming, excel in their strengths and grapple with their weaknesses.

Dealing with school can bring about particular challenges. Teens might forget homework, avoid friends, or even refuse to attend school. Parents might think they’re just being defiant, but some behaviors suggest a more serious condition.

A growing body of research shows that many adolescents struggle with school refusal, which experts describe as a condition rooted in anxiety. Causes may vary, but common school refusal behaviors tend to emerge.

5 Common School Refusal Behaviors

Certain behaviors are characteristic of school refusal when they occur over a protracted time and interfere with teens’ daily activities.

1. Withdrawal from activities & social interactions

School-refusing teens might show little or no interest in attending extracurricular activities, sports or social events with friends. They might have difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, lack energy or show signs of fatigue. Their withdrawal could present extreme signs of anxiety or depression.

2. Change in diet & sleep patterns

When teens consistently skip meals or have trouble sleeping, they are sending up red flags that something is amiss. School-refusing teens wrestle with anxieties and fears that can make them lose their appetite and interfere with sleep. This behavior doesn’t simply “go away” after a while; it persists, and it can lead to serious health problems.

3. Complaints of physical ailments

The anxieties and fears that trouble school-refusing teens can manifest themselves as stomachaches, headaches, nausea, dizziness and more. 

Teens might behave as if they are dealing with an illness, insisting they can’t go to school, but these symptoms vanish when they are allowed to stay home. Usually, trips to the doctor will show no evidence of an illness, although the pains were probably really felt.

4. Panic attacks or anxiety attacks

Some school-refusing teens are severely anxious about interacting with certain social groups, performing in class or even entering the cafeteria. The prospect of these activities can lead to panic attacks or anxiety attacks. 

Panic attacks can come on suddenly, involving a rapid pulse, chest pain or dizziness. Anxiety attacks occur over a longer period of time, involving irritability, nervousness, fatigue or distress.

5. Decline in school performance    

Even if they excelled previously, school-refusing teens often struggle in school, missing homework assignments or failing tests. Grades might drop across the board or in certain classes. These situations can indicate anxieties about managing workloads, interacting with particular peers or performing in class.

Tactics To Help Your School-Refusing Teen

Identifying school refusal behavior in your teen is just one component to helping ease their worry and fear. Many parents find having specific tactics and tips to use as they navigate the issue is incredibly helpful as well.

Have an honest conversation

It’s easy for a teen to slam a door and say “leave me alone.” It’s easy for parents to oblige and figure she will get over it. Don’t do this. Open the door, sit down and ask your teen the honest question: “What’s happening at school that’s worrying you?”

Your teen might be resistant to talking. Be patient, but also ask specific questions. Ask her about her friends and classes. Ask her who she sits with in the cafeteria and what they talk about. Point out some behaviors that worry you, and ask her how they make her feel or if she knows what’s causing them.

Opening up this dialogue might reveal incidents of bullying, trauma or rejection – all common causes of school refusal behavior. You may not arrive at answers in just one conversation, but showing your teen that you are willing to listen without judgment will build trust and begin the road to recovery.

Clear out the clutter

Eliminate excessive activity and reduce overwhelm by adjusting your family’s routines and environment. If your teen is over-committed to extracurricular activities, resign from those that are unnecessary.

Organize smooth processes that help your teen focus and avoid overwhelm. Implement structured routines to follow when he gets home from school, does his homework, has dinner and prepares for bed. Teach him how to break down homework assignments into manageable chunks. Set out clothes for the next day to avoid feeling rushed in the morning.

Clearing out the “clutter” of activities, whether they’re too many or just plain disorganized, can lessen the overall feeling of pressure and anxiety.

Focus on the good things

Help your teen remember the positive parts of her school experience. If she loves art class, model excitement about it on the days she has this class. Praise her when she brings home a new creation. If she has a small but good group of friends, help her find value in these relationships, even though they might seem insignificant to her.

Throughout her recovery, you’ll see her make strides. Recognize these successes, however small they are, and tell her that you are proud of her. Emphasizing success and positivity will reinforce the good parts of life and her school experience, and it will gradually assist in her recovery.

Get help and form a team

You and your teen don’t have to overcome this challenge on your own. Enlist the help of your teen’s school and possibly a mental health professional.

First, talk to your teen’s teachers, school counselor, and appropriate administration. Ask about his behavior, school performance, and relationships. Establish a success plan and stay in communication.

If necessary, talk to a mental health professional who can give your teen a full evaluation. A mental health professional can help him identify root causes, diagnose any co-occurring mental health issues, and design an appropriate treatment plan.

Discover More On Handling School Refusal Behavior 

School refusal is a complex issue, but with time, effort and patience, you can help your teen overcome it. Although there is no clear and easy solution, your teen can work through their anxiety and fear, gaining support and encouragement from you along the way. 

Learn More About School Refusal Behavior