Term 3 has now kicked off across the country, and while some young people may be excited to be back to school and catching up with their peers and teachers, many may be struggling to return to the classroom.

School refusal, which is different to regular truancy, is when a young person becomes very distressed and anxious about going to school, to the point they refuse to attend. It is typically accompanied by emotional distress and anxiety, and can have an impact on your teen’s social development, mental health and academic progress.

In recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of parents searching for information about school refusal via ReachOut Parents.

While the reasons for school refusal are complex, the extended lockdowns, remote learning and rising number of young people experiencing mental health challenges may have spurred an increase in the number of young people having difficulties attending school and the number of families seeking support.

If you’re a parent or carer of a young person struggling with school refusal you might be wondering how you can support them. There are a number of strategies that can help you begin to understand why your teen is unable to attend school, help them to manage their stress and anxiety and to support your teen to return to the classroom or find an alternate pathway which is right for them.

Identify the underlying cause:

Start a dialogue with your teen to uncover why they do not want to attend school. There are often a number of contributing factors, which could include issues with their peers, major life events, or mental health conditions.

By having an understanding of the underlying cause you will be better equipped to provide the appropriate support options to address their needs.

Try to be as non-judgemental as possible. It’s important that your teen knows they are not in trouble and you only want to help.

Communicate with the school:

Get in touch with your teen’s school to find out more about what support they can provide. The school might have a wellbeing team or learning support team that can work with you and your teen to create a flexible learning program, which might include a modified curriculum, reduced homework, or extra academic support. They can also help to connect you with relevant support services, including mental health support

Connect with support:

School refusal can have a big impact not only on teens, but on parents, carers and other family members. Seeking support can be helpful to learn what is happening for your teen and to ensure you are equipped with the skills to provide the support they need. ReachOut also has a range of resources to help your teen manage their mental health and wellbeing and support them with their school related anxiety.

Supporting a young person experiencing school refusal can be distressing. Don’t forget to prioritise your own mental health and wellbeing during this time.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, visit your GP, a mental health professional or an online support service such as ReachOut. Or contact Lifeline 13 11 14

Ashley de Silva is the CEO at leading youth mental health service, ReachOut.