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Thursday, 22 March 2001

My Daughter Won't Go to School

Written by  Naomi Baum, PhD.

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QI am a parent of a 13-year-old girl who is in the seventh grade. We live in a small town in Oklahoma. My daughter has lots of friends, is really pretty and does well in school. The problem is she doesn't want to go to school. She actually makes herself sick to keep from going. It has gotten so bad that I have been turned in to the District Attorney because she's missed so much school. I love my daughter and I want her to do well and go to school. I've tried talking, listening and begging and I can't figure out what the problem is and neither can the school. Do you know what would make a child not want to go to school for no apparent reason? Can you give me some tips on what to do?

AIt certainly sounds like you are having a difficult time of things with your daughter. I have several thoughts concerning what might be going on and some avenues you might check out. First of all, you said that she "makes her self sick." I'm wondering what these illnesses are and if you have checked them out with a doctor. Sometimes we think children are feigning illnesses, when in fact something is really wrong with them physically.

The second thing that occurs to me is that there may be something going on that is so threatening to your daughter that she is unable to discuss this with you, or anyone else. This may be something social, something sexual or some other kind of moral dilemma. Keeping the door open to communicating with her is essential. Letting her know that you are always ready to talk with her and that you will not punish her for what she tells you is very important. Suggesting that she might talk with a psychologist or a therapist..who is not connected to the school, and where she will have complete confidentiality might also help.

You didn't mention anything about your family and I am wondering if there are any major changes that have occurred in your family (marriage, divorce, death, illness, moving house) in the past several months. These changes can often be the source of stress in our children's lives, even if on the surface they seem to have adjusted to the change.

In order to help your daughter make it back to school, it is important to set up very clear rules with her. Addressing the issues of when she is allowed to miss school, and what she needs to do when and if she misses school is important. Running a fever is often a good benchmark to use in deciding whether to allow your child to stay home. Stomach aches and headaches are usually not good indicators for staying home. When your daughter does stay home, guidelines as to how much TV? - watching and computer? - playing is allowed are also helpful. Reminding her about homework and schoolwork she needs to make up and making yourself available to help her with this are also advisable.

If all this fails and you can't find a "correctable" problem, I suggest that you contact the school psychologist in your school district. These professionals usually have experience with school refusal, as this problem is called in the professional jargon. They may be able to help you and help your daughter get back on the road to school.

Good luck and let me know how things go.


Naomi L. Baum, PhD

Last modified on Thursday, 07 April 2011 08:24
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Naomi Baum, PhD.

Naomi Baum, PhD.

Naomi Baum is the Director of the Resilience Unit at The Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma and the National School Resilience Project. Her work at ICTP focuses on developing programs to build resilience in communities that have been highly exposed to trauma and stress. She has successfully brought her approach to Biloxi, Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Her work there included seven visits to the city, she trained teachers, social workers, school nurses, and counselors. She has also worked with the population in Haiti following teh earthquake. She has written about Trauma and Resilience in several published articles and books.

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