School refusal – what’s behind it?

The number of school refusals is mounting. 

The question is: what is driving school refusal?

This is a complex issue. It can include demotivation, lack of energy, and avoidance behaviours. For example, finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning. Other signs may include fear, feeling ill, or emotional outbursts.

School refusal is an emotional reaction!

Something nasty happened to me recently in the town where I live. Our home is 2.5 miles from where the incident occurred. Worse still, I have to pass it to go shopping.

Every time I passed the place I felt sick. I started to find reasons not to go.

I can feel the emotions rising as I write this, and the incident happened more than two years ago.

  • “I suggest that emotional distress and anxiety are why the number of children refusing to attend school is increasing.” Gav Devereux

We have all lived (are living) through turbulent times. First, we had the pandemic, then the war, and now the cost-of-living crisis. But these world influences are not all. Things have changed in our immediate surroundings too. We may stay at home more, buy online, and interact less with others these days.

Our mindset and behaviour have been affected in ways we don’t yet fully understand. However, as adults, we are better equipped to cope, but what of our children? How have these ongoing events affected them and how are they managing?

Anxious girl in bed refusing to go to school

​School refusers – how can we help them?

This question is difficult to answer until we clarify several other things. For example, it is important to understand:


  • “What is bothering them?”
  • “Is the issue home or school related or both? Or something else altogether?”
  • “How can parents help their children at home?”
  • “How can teachers help our children if they don’t attend school? For example, is there a way for teachers to support children in a venue other than school?”
  • “How can we improve collaboration between parents and teachers?”
  • “What does an emotional recovery programme look like”?
Anxiety, please help me sign

School refusal – something parents and teachers will agree upon (I hope!).

Firstly, we need to understand the “why” behind their actions. In other words, we need to know what is causing each child to feel and behave the way they are. Therefore, this first step is about helping them open up and share their thoughts and feelings with us.

Secondly, we need to find ways to help them. The objective is to support them to overcome their worries by building their self-belief and confidence. This way, children will feel stronger within themselves and want to rejoin the normal rhythm of school on their own accord.

Finally, we need to be patient because it takes time, energy, motivation, and commitment to regain a positive sense of self. In other words, there are no magic pills. We all have to do the work, parent, teacher, and child.

If you are a parent or teacher facing these challenges, Mindscreen’s self-worth assessment and development programme will help you and your children.

​You may also like this blog post about how to change destructive beliefs in 3 steps

Is Low Self-Esteem Affecting Your Child's Potential?

Find out with our free 5-minute check

(For teacher and parent use)

Helping Children Flourish

Gav Devereux

Author bio

Being diagnosed with dyslexia, labelled remedial, and regularly told that I was a “stupid boy” affected my self-esteem.

Worse still, I carried low self-worth into my adult life. Yet, later, when I learned how to challenge my destructive mindset, I began to feel happier.

I thought, if I can change my way of thinking, anyone can!

And so, in 1996 I founded Mindscreen and began developing resources to help children to believe in themselves and go after their dreams.

That’s how the Mindscreen experience® came into being. I hope it helps your children as much as it has helped me!