School Refusal: Why Some Children Don't Like Going To School

‘Back to school’ – quite a few children may hate this phrase. Are you the parent of one such child? Are you puzzled why your child dislikes school? Here are some eye-openers.

By Malini Gopalakrishnan

School Refusal: Why Some Children Don't Like Going To School

Schools are about to reopen after the summer holidays. While some children may enjoy the novelty of their trendy new bags and shiny new uniforms, some others may not be cheerful. So, why do some children hate going to school? We get some insights straight from the horse’s mouth.

"I like school because I get to meet my friends and do cool things like colouring and painting. But I don’t like going to school sometimes, because I have to wear my uniform. It is very uncomfortable. If I could wear my dresses, I would love school." - Aadya Balakrishnan, 5 years

"School is very exciting at the start of each year. After a couple of weeks though, it starts to get very boring. It is the same classes and routine repeating itself. I wish we had more activities at school to make things more fun. When it is all studies, homework and assessment, we don’t feel like going to school."- Sneha Srinivas, 11 years

"We just moved to Hyderabad last year. I have lived all my life in Bengaluru and had lots of friends at my old school. Since we moved, I have not been able to make many friends. Everyone is divided into groups and I don’t fit in. Even though they are very polite to me, I have not made any new friends. I dislike going to school because it is very lonely for me."- Krithika Rajendran, 13 years

"I don’t like to go to school because somebody is always trying to teach us something! I don’t like to sit in class all day. It’s very boring. I would rather be playing outside. Also, since I am in school all day I don’t get enough time to play games on the computer."- Abhijeet Prakash, 7 years

"I love going to school! The only problem is my Math teacher. She is extremely strict and makes us work too hard. I am not very fond of her!"- Niya Zaira Sohrab, 8 years

"I would really love school if it wasn’t for homework. There is always so much of it! It takes away from my time to do anything fun. Also, some of the teachers are unnecessarily strict. In all the other ways, school is lots of fun!"- Nadhetha L P, 7 years

"I don’t like going to school very much. I am the shortest boy in class and the tall ones are always picking on me because I am little. I feel very upset when this happens!"- Samarth Shenoy, 4 years

"I love my science subjects, but I cannot stand Chemistry, especially Organic Chemistry. It is so tough. I just do not understand what is being taught. Our teacher also insists on giving us surprise tests. I’ve started hating school since I’ve taken up the subject. I wish I could just skip it!" - Natasha Irvin, 17 years

"Our teachers are very, very strict! Some of them really scare me. I don’t feel like going to school because I want to avoid them."- Sapna Sudhir, 9 years

Handling children's problems

Delhi-based child psychologist, Prachi, who practises at the Doctor’s Hub clinic, Gurgaon, gives us her insights on the common reasons for children refusing to go to school.

"The sight of a 3-year-old wailing outside a kindergarten class or a rebellious, reluctant high school student is nothing new to the parent or teaching community. Children can refuse to go to school for various reasons.

It is important to keep in mind that the reasons for school refusal is dependent on the age of the child. This means that the reasons for a toddler refusing to go to school will be completely different from the reasons that hold good for an adolescent.

All these concerns are perfectly normal in children. A lot of these issues will work themselves out. Encourage your child to talk to you about what they do at school so that you understand what is happening and can identify fears and anxieties before they get out of hand.

In some cases though, children refuse to go to school outright. ‘I hate school! I’m never going back!’ becomes a constant morning refrain in houses, leaving parents frustrated and desperate.

Young children, chronically refusing to go to school, commonly present with anxiety symptoms when they approach us. Adolescents have symptoms associated with anxiety and mood disorders. The disorders include separation anxiety, social phobia, panic, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and adjustment disorders.

Severe cases of such anxiety often have their roots in dysfunctional family interactions. Over-dependency, detachment with family members or frequent conflicts at home also contribute to defiant behaviour. Children are quick to tap into communication problems among family members, or problems in role responsibilities (especially in case of single-parents) and they come out with their own responses, one of which can be a refusal to go to school.

The evaluation and management of a child not wanting to go to school, requires an approach that includes the family physician, school staff, parents, and, in severe cases, a mental health professional.

Children often exhibit physical symptoms as an outcome of the root cause, so evaluation by a physician is also important to rule out any metabolic medical problems. Treatment may include a combination of educational-support therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, parent-teacher interventions and medication."

Common reasons for a toddler not wanting to go to school are:

  • Fear of strangers/teachers
  • Separation from parents/a feeling of loneliness
  • Adjusting to a structured routine
  • Common reasons for an adolescent may be:
  • Fear of studies/exams
  • Fear of being bullied/ridiculed
  • Peer Pressure
  • Boring curriculum or teaching methodology
  • Emotional concerns