What Parents Can Do When a Child Refuses to Go to School

Getting a frightened or angry child to school can be a parent’s worst battle. The struggle between doing what’s right and what your child needs emotionally can become an impossible struggle. Know that many families have successfully maneuvered the obstacles to getting a difficult child back to school and to enjoying a good education and fulfilling peer relationships. You can too.


A student is truant after missing, or being more than 30 min. late for 3 days during a school year, without valid excuses. After this, in a public school, the student is reported to the attendance supervisor or the superintendent of the school district. After one conference has been attempted with parents, the child is considered Habitually Truant. A Habitual Truant is then referred to SARB who can report the child to the District Attorney or Probation Officer. The child may then be arrested, or returned to the school, parents or youth center if they don’t go to school. The school may then direct the parents to bring the child to school. Whether the child is in private or public school, fines of $100 for first offense, $250 for second offense and $500 for subsequent offenses can be levied on parents if they do not get the child to school.  2016-05-14-14-14-49

There are specific steps to getting your child back into a daily routine of getting to school on time and staying through their final period of classes. The longer it takes a family to get set a plan into action, the harder it is to turn around unsuccessful habits. A therapist can help with the outlining and implementation of a successful and respectful plan.

1. Make sure you speak respectfully and with authority as you help your child get back into a school routine.
2. Have your child evaluated for anxiety, depression or bullying issues. Follow through with professional treatment.
3. Set up a meeting with teachers, school counselor, your child and yourself. Write out a plan. Have everyone sign it.
4. Set up a written reward contract for a reward to be given as soon as your child is picked up at the end of the school day. (Cell phones, computers and video games are privileges, not parental obligations. All electronics need to be charging in parent’s room at night.)

5. Set up e-mail or other daily communication with all your child’s teachers. Don’t expect your discouraged child to be completely open and honest.
6. Change who drives your child to school. Leave 10 min. earlier.
7. Print out Parents Legal Guide to Public Schools in your county. Highlight truancy passages. Have your child read and sign those paragraphs.
8. Let your child know about legal consequences of truancy, i.e., arrest, or suspension, restriction or delay of driving privileges (Section 13202.7 of the Vehicle Code) or permanent records that may inhibit college acceptance or other employment opportunities. After a fourth truancy a child can be made a ward of the court and sentenced to community service and court-approved truancy prevention programs.

9. Do not call in or write excuses for your child. Let them take the consequences given by the school. Do not re-punish at home.
10. Celebrate small victories. Let your child know you believe in them.
11. If one parent is more strict and one more concerned about the child’s emotional well-being, find a written compromise or seek therapy. Do not let your child overhear you arguing about them.

c 2017, Lois V Nightingale, PhD 714-993-5343