Can a Parent Make a Child Go to School?

If your child has days where she simply does not want to go to school, you may be facing “school refusal,” which is a problem common in many families. A child may have many reasons for refusing to attend school, states Mary Wimmer, a school psychologist in Wisconsin. In this situation, your response is very important. If you are harsh and insist that your child attend school -- with no ''ifs'' ''ands'' or ''buts'' -- this may be counterproductive.

Parental Responsibility

Local jurisdictions govern the laws regarding children’s compulsory school attendance. This includes the number of allowed excused absences per semester and what a parent’s responsibility is for ensuring that her child attends school. Visit the GovGuru website (link in Resources) to learn the laws in your jurisdiction regarding parental sanctions. In some cases, parents can be fined for unexcused absences, receive a jail sentence, receive a stipulation for child counseling, or receive a directive to attend some sort of educational program that teaches parenting skills.

Truancy Issues

What is truancy? A child who is not attending school because she is unengaged, (an unengaged child is a child who isn't involved in activities and isn't making academic efforts) or a child who is trying to conceal that she is not going to school, generally fits the description of truancy. Truancy does not involve the same emotional issues as school refusal. When truancy occurs, parents need to work closely with the school and with local authorities, so that the child knows that school attendance is not optional 2. Although a parent may not be able to force her child to go to school, that parent can work closely with school and law enforcement officials when it has been determined that her child is truant. These cooperative efforts will create consequences for the child, and these consequences are likely to get her to attend school again.

School Refusal

A child may have extreme separation anxiety, making it difficult for her to separate from her parent to attend school, states Rachel G. Klein, Ph.D., with the New York University Child Study Center 2. The student with school refusal exhibits fear and anxiety in connection with attending school 3. When a child shows school refusal, strive to encourage your child to attend school. The threat of punishment for not attending school does not help resolve the problem; however, treating your child rationally, consistently and lovingly may succeed in getting your child to school.

Forcing Attendance

There may be times when it is appropriate to force your child to return to school, even though she refuses to attend, states Wimmer. Generally, though, forced attendance is only feasible with young children. The process of physically forcing a child to attend classes can be exceedingly stressful for children. Instead of forcing your child to attend school, consider using a gradual reentry approach. Gradual reentry is when you ask a professional to evaluate your child and then you follow the professional’s instructions to get your child back to school gradually. This involves gradual attendance for a short time at first, and slowly increasing the time she is in school. This can be an effective way to show a child that attending school is nothing to fear or to worry about, states the Anxiety and Depression Association of America 3.

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