School refusal remains a major problem in the UK. A recent study by the Commission on School Reform found that 40% of students in Scotland miss one day of school every two weeks. Now kids have returned to classrooms following half term, children will be more confident and less likely to avoid going to school, if parents are given the support to spot the signs of school-related anxiety.
Children’s refusal to attend school is a complex problem which has been exacerbated by the interruptions caused by the pandemic to children’s learning, socialising and increasing their anxiety levels. Other factors that can contribute include peer interaction, family dynamics, parent-school interaction, and community support.
According to Young Minds, over 3.5 million young people (ages 6 to 23) are battling probable or possible mental health disorders, including anxiety. Research has shown that school refusal is closely linked to anxiety, so by giving parents the strategies to support a child who may be experiencing anxiety, we will be strengthening their resilience and wellbeing to get them back into the classroom sooner. Many children are overwhelmed and have resorted to avoidance strategies like skipping school to cope.
It’s important that parents are comfortable reaching out for help, whether from their child’s school, GP, or from evidence-based parenting programmes provided by local Family Hubs, Early Help or Mental Health Support Teams. In some cases, children may benefit from specialist support in order to return to school. Parents remain hugely influential in helping children to be healthy, confident, and resilient.

By focusing on a few simple strategies, parents can support their child to return to the classroom:

1. Open Communication
Communication is the key to a happy and healthy parent child relationship. You could start by asking your child how they’re feeling about attending school. Discuss your own positive memories of school with them. If your child has particular concerns, whether it’s making friends or workload, help them think of some possible solutions. Try to answer questions honestly and familiarise your child with what to expect – check in regularly to ensure the open lines of communication continue.

2. Routine
When returning to school it is important to help your children ease into their new schedule with regular routines. Being consistent with bedtimes or helping your child pack their bag the night before, will encourage your child to become more independent, confident, and better set up to focus on school the next day.

3. A positive and strong relationship with school

When parents and teachers work closely together, it provides a positive base to support children’s social, emotional, and academic outcomes. Instilling consistency between school and home will help your children thrive by allowing them to anticipate what comes next. Building a bridge of consistency between school and home can be as simple as using similar routines and language. Schools can support parents by offering advice on how to help their child who has anxiety, as well as flagging if they have concerns about a child’s emotional outlook or wellbeing. Maintaining regular contact with your child’s teacher or school will make it easier to identify if your child is struggling, then if needed, you can formulate a plan to get them any support they may need.

Sometimes, a little help in putting these in place makes all the difference. Triple P – Positive Parenting Program® offers tips and ideas for every family. You can choose what works for you and what you’d like to try. For more information, visit Matt Buttery is CEO of Triple P UK & Ireland