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How Do You Treat School Avoidance?

How Do You Treat School Avoidance?

Infrequent refusal to go to school is normal, but when this becomes a routine problem for a young person, it may be indicative of school avoidance. School avoidance, also known as school refusal and school phobia, is defined by Stanford Children’s Hospital as “a term used to describe the signs or anxiety a school-aged child has and his or her refusal to go to school.” There are several natural consequences of a young person repeatedly missing schools such as falling behind academically, diminished self-confidence, social isolation, friendship difficulties, and more. School avoidance is not uncommon, and data suggests that school refusal occurs among 2 to 4% of all children, from early childhood through high school. It is important to bear in mind that school avoidance is not a disorder, but rather it presents as a symptom experienced by a young person.

Signs and Symptoms 

School avoidance is the clear refusal to attend school, which can manifest in different ways. Some examples of behaviors exhibited by a young person who is school avoidant include the following, provided by Harvard Medical School:

  • Refusing to get dressed in the morning
  • Purposefully missing the bus to school
  • Constant complaints of different physical ailments
  • Neglecting to do homework
  • Anxiety
  • Weight fluctuation
  • Depression
  • Social isolation

When a teenager goes to a doctor for his or her physical ailments, frequently no illness or medical diagnosis will be found. Most adolescents who experience school avoidance are unable to articulate their discomfort and do not actually know why they feel sick. The symptoms surrounding a teen’s school avoidance, most commonly, will be present on school days and absent on the weekends.


The first step to treating school avoidance is for the young person to be medically evaluated to rule out the presence of a physical illness. Provided the teen is physically healthy, there are a variety of subsequent treatment options available to help navigate school refusal. The purpose of treatment for young people that are school avoidant is to provide them with applicable coping mechanisms to deal with the inevitable pain and discomforts that can occur in one’s life. Everyone is different and will require a customized treatment plan to achieve the best possible recovery outcome. Certain therapeutic modalities that are commonly integrated into treatment plans for adolescents struggling with school avoidance may include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), and/ or expressive arts therapies. There is no universal way to treat school avoidance, as the specifics of one’s treatment process are entirely personal and will be wholly informed and guided by each young person’s distinctive needs. 

For Information and Support

Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times.

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life in, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.


We are available to answer any questions you may have regarding mental health treatment and our residential program, anytime. Contact us today using the form to the right.

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