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Why is my Teen Avoiding School?

The school year has begun! Every school year brings its own set of challenges for students and parents. Maybe it is a harder math class or it is the first year at a new school. While we can anticipate some struggles, others may be a surprise. For some reason, this year it has gotten even harder to get your child to go to school. In years past, they may have complained about school, but this year it is on another level. They complain about headaches, stomachaches, or just not feeling “well”. They scream that they don’t want to go to school or they might be silent and refuse to come out of their rooms. Another circumstance is they get to school, but they are sent home consistently due to complaints of various ailments. 

At Lifeologie, we see these behaviors all the time – we call it School Avoidance. As a parent you want your child to succeed and you may feel stuck because you know they should be in school, but they seem to be going through a very hard time. Most likely, your child doesn’t tell you what is going wrong or causing them to feel this way about school. 

The big reasons your child may be avoiding school

How can you help them when you don’t know what is going on?!? As a counselor that specializes in seeing adolescent males, I often hear about the lack of communication of feelings between my clients and their parents. The truth of the matter is that there could be tons of reasons why student develop school avoidance. 

Here are some of the ones I hear about the most:

  1. The huge amount of pressure the student feels to succeed
  2. Bullying is taking place where the child no longer feels safe
  3. Trouble fitting in with their peers
  4. General difficulty in transitioning back to the school schedule
  5. Separation Anxiety with parents or other family members
  6. Here is a newer reason: Fear of a school shooting

Your child might be experiencing school avoidance due to one or more of these reasons, or they could be experiencing school avoidance due to something totally different than something listed. Children and teens are complex and a variety of factors influence their experiences and feelings. 

5 ways to support your child in a digital world

So how can you support your child or have your child tell you what is going on? Often, children and teens really don’t know what is causing them to feel a certain way. Or they may know the reason why they are feeling a certain way, but have trouble verbalizing it. This is something that we all struggle with at all ages. There are times when we all feel a strong feeling such as sadness or anger, and we can’t truly pinpoint the root cause. So, here are some tips to address school avoidance with your child:

  1. Set up a time to talk to your child about this issue
  2. Go into the conversation with an open mind- You most likely will hear something that you had no idea about. 
  3. Sometimes sitting across from a younger child or teen feels like an interrogation to them, so you could go on a walk, play a game they enjoy, or go to a show or sporting event and speak after. The key here is not to reward the behavior but explain to them this is a way you are hoping to better understand and help them. 
  4. Respond to them in a supportive way and try not to solve everything right away. 
  5. They may struggle to find the words, so give them time. Some silence can be your friend. If a long time passes, then tell them that you are available and looking forward to talking to them when the time comes.

Since it is the beginning of the school year, it is good to address school avoidance now. One missed day turns into two which leads to many days off. So, if having a conversation doesn’t work, don’t shame or punish your child. It is good to be stern and to acknowledge the importance of school, but this is a tender issue that is best remedied from a stance of support and kindness versus shame and ridicule. 

What to do next

Your next steps could involve speaking to a school counselor, your child’s pediatrician or a therapist. When my client discusses something hard or troubling for them, I thank them for sharing and acknowledge the courage and vulnerability it took to share something painful or emotional for them. This is something that you can do as well if your child shares what is occurring. As counselors, we can help give your child understanding and the words to explain what they are feeling. We can work with them to establish tools to aid with their stress or anxiety. We can be a positive and supportive person that aids your child’s successful school year. 

For my stance as a counselor, I always try to individualize my counseling. If your teen likes sports we will talk about sports, if they like games we will play games, if they like to draw, we will be artists, etc. We will also discuss what is going on and help make this school year a success. If you believe your teen could benefit from a counselor, contact us to set up a meeting! 


About The Author

Ben Balke Counselor for teens in Grand Rapids MI Ada MIBen Balke, LLPC

Ben enjoys teen counseling and working with young adults as they discover who they are, learn to navigate school, and deal with social anxieties. He’s passionate about connecting with people and making sure they feel safe to work through whatever it is that is tangling them up.



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