Avoiding and Refusing to Go to School

This information is useful for children
Why Yale Medicine?
  • We focus on identifying and treating the underlying reasons why a child doesn't want to go to school.
  • We contribute to national research on this issue and work closely with public and private schools throughout Connecticut.
  • We have longstanding expertise in treating mental-health problems in children and specialize in connecting kids and their families to resources to address their needs.

Most children and adolescents go to school, even if they complain about it. But 10 percent to 15 percent of students are estimated to miss 10 percent or more school days each year, making them “chronically absent.” It’s a major challenge facing our schools today—and a big problem for the families of the children, too.

There are many reasons why students are chronically absent. Some have medical problems that keep them home. Some have parents who don’t make an effort to get their children to school in the morning. And a third group of children doesn’t go to school school because it’s too hard—academically, socially and/or emotionally. Those children fall into a category called “school avoidant.” At the Yale Medicine Child Study Center, we are experienced at treating the underlying issues that contribute to children avoiding school. 

“School avoidance is a more prevalent problem than many people realize,” says Eli Lebowitz, PhD, a Child Study Center psychologist and assistant professor who specializes in treating this problem. Lebowitz says that the school-avoidant category includes children who simply don’t attend school at all, some who rarely attend, and many who are under-attenders, skipping 10 percent to 20 percent of school days, which amounts to one or two days a week.

“One of the painful aspects of this problem,” Lebowitz says, “is the makeup of the group. School avoidance is linked to other factors, including coming from a disadvantaged background, having low socioeconomic status, and being a member of an ethnic minority.” If these students are missing school, it means that they’re not getting an education. They are at high risk of dropping out of high school, Lebowitz says, which makes it more unlikely that they’ll break the cycle of poverty into which many were born.

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