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Ask a Professional: School refusal

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Ask a Professional: School refusal

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Ask a Professional: School refusal

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Hi everyone, we have a blended family which has its challenges but is mostly a happy home.

Our daughter who has gone from a public primary school has now started at a private high school.

Her mum disliked the local public high school and 100% of her friends went to the public school.

Thus far I could count on my hands and fingers the days we have had her at the new school.

When she is at school and can get her there she seems to cope well, according to teachers.

Getting her to school is the tough bit as getting her out of bed is impossible.

She dislikes the school and ultimately in my opinion is sabotaging the opportunity and ultimately wants to go to the school close by which has her friends in it.

We have had meetings with the school and year advisor and she basically is a mute in them meetings and doesn't communicate.

My partner is adamant that she sticks it out at this school, but it is causing much distress at home and making my partner very anxious and upset. To the point at which she can't function and starts to talk about leaving and not being present.

My thoughts seem to be that the simplest solution is to just pull her out of private and stick her in public but that logical choice seems almost absurd from my partner's perspective.

My partner just wants her to have the best possible education as do I but not at the expense of both their mental health.

When the child talks to me she basically says she hates the school, wants to go to the public one.

When the child talks with her mum she shuts down.

We have a long wait for professional help so I thought I would ask the audience for support.

Can anyone share a thought on some approaches to getting her to school or share some experiences?


When I talk with her, I get the main reason for not wanting to go to that school is not liking it there.

She doesn't really elaborate or goes into detail only repeats that she just doesn't like it there.

I really feel it is a sabotage attempt to get her way.

Both of them have been to counselling and it usually involved her mum doing all the talking and the daughter not saying a single word or acknowledging any part of the conversation.

We got her to go a half day yesterday and again this morning another flat out refusal.

We have had meetings at the school with year advisors where again, both Mum and the teacher do all the talking and the daughter doesn't say boo.

I feel the school are very helpful and understanding however they can only help once she is present.

We are in the process of getting professional help however the waitlist is incredibly long.



Dear @DownunderDad

I can hear what a difficult situation this is, and it sounds like you are feeling really stuck. It’s great that you have sought professional support, even if there will be a wait until you can see someone (unfortunately long waitlists are very common at the moment).

It sounds like one of the things which is making things difficult is that you and your partner have different ideas on the best way to solve things. This is not unusual, and of course from time to time partners have different perspectives, but, at the moment not being on the same page might be making it more difficult to communicate with your daughter. She’s at an age where having a reason for decisions and boundaries is really important for her to respect those boundaries, and if you and your wife aren’t able to explain the reasons why she is not able to transfer to a public school in a clear way, she is likely to continue to push for change.

If you and your partner can develop a shared understanding and agree on an approach it can also allow both of you to feel more supported.

From what you have said things are pretty overwhelming for your partner at the moment. These kinds of situations are really tough and it is common for parents to feel distress. Sometimes this distress can actually make it even harder to address the problems and communicate calmly with their teen (and partner), as well as impacting the parent’s quality of life. I’m not sure if the professional help you are seeking is for the family or your daughter as an individual, but I’d also suggest that your partner might want to look at individual support for herself as well, based on how you have described her level of distress. This would provide a space for her to be able to focus on her own emotional needs, and help her develop some strategies so she can feel less overwhelmed. Sometimes when a parent’s distress happens in the context of something which is happening with the child, they will focus on getting help for the child, and ignore individual help for themselves. I appreciate that there may well be delays in her seeing someone - in the meantime speaking to Parentline can be helpful, or a service like Beyondblue can help with strategies to manage anxiety.

It's great that you have been proactive in trying to find out what is happening and why your daughter doesn’t want to go to school. It can be frustrating to get a ‘don’t know’ response back - it’s actually pretty normal for teens to struggle to articulate why they don’t like something, particularly if they are feeling overwhelmed. She also may be reluctant to talk about it if she feels like any reason she gives will be used as part of an argument to convince her to go to school. Often in situations where there is a conflict between parents and a teen, communication can become tricky as the teen withdraws, and the parent tries harder to get information. This can create a bit of an unhelpful pattern, where the more the parent talks, the less willing the teen is to talk.

If you’re finding that most of the conversations that you and your partner are having with your daughter at the moment are about school, setting aside time to focus on positives in the relationship (such as shared activities or topics that you enjoy talking about) is a good way to support and strengthen the relationship. The more secure your daughter is feeling in the relationship, the more confident she will be to share about her life at the moment, and she’ll be more likely to be open to understand things from your perspective, which can help you work together on her school attendance.

Best wishes,


Linda is a psychologist experienced in working with people across the lifespan, including teenagers and their families, in a variety of settings, and is ReachOut's Clinical Lead.