End the school refusal battle

The morning school battle begins.
The morning school battle begins. 

Dear Kimberley,

I’d like the opinion of a Child Psychologist as I don’t want to do my child any damage when I insist she must attend school.

Chloe is 7 and has recently started Year 2 at our local school. She typically wakes early and crawls into bed with my husband and I on school days. Without fail, Chloe starts crying and refuses to leave our bed when it’s time to get ready for school. She won’t come to the table to eat her breakfast and getting her dressed becomes a physical struggle filled with promises if she complies. By the time we arrive at the school gate, Chloe is puffy-eyed and exhausted.

I avoid the morning banter between Mums and focus on handing Chloe over to her teacher. Things escalate as we near the classroom as Chloe often tries to pull away and run back to the car.

Her teachers have always been very understanding, but I need your help to put an end to this cycle which ends with me leaving the school while Chloe sobs in the classroom. What more can we do?

Her teachers have always been very understanding, but I need your help to put an end to this cycle which ends with me leaving the school while she sobs in the classroom.

Sarah, NSW.

Dear Sarah,

Chloe is likely extremely anxious in the mornings and I would suggest changing her routine to avoid the usual triggers.

For example, go for a walk together, rather than snuggling in bed; eat breakfast outside rather than at the table or walk to school, instead of taking the car.


This will help to give Chloe new and more positive experiences each morning. You may find one new activity makes all the difference, like riding her bike to school to relax her muscles and change her thought patterns.

In my experience, school phobia and/or separation anxiety can take 6-8 weeks to overcome with lots of communication between teachers, parents and a psychologist.

Choose an activity your child enjoys and ask the school to create a Before School Club or room dedicated to this activity and give Chloe a lead role, such as unpacking the pencils and paper for the “Colouring Club”.

Often parents need as much support as the children involved, so please consider a telephone consultation with an Educational & Developmental psychologist if this issue continues and avoid using punishments or threats to manage anxious children. Parents consistently report this will only make matters worse.

Useful resources like the book Relax can help the school preparation and Tickets can also work as a positive and playful reward tool.

Does your child refuse to go to school? Speak to other members on the Essential Kids' Forums.

Kimberley O'Brien is one of Australia's most trusted and recognized Child Psychologists with a knack for solving issues from the child's perspective. She is currently Principal Psychologist at the Quirky Kid Clinic in NSW.