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The Neurotherapy Clinic Victoria

Yarra Ranges Counselling

Understanding and Addressing School Refusal

As parents, witnessing your child’s reluctance to attend school can be both concerning and puzzling. School refusal, a complex issue affecting a significant number of Australian children, demands a nuanced approach for effective resolution. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the causes of school refusal, explore its impact, and discuss the available help, including innovative options like neurotherapy.

                         Who It Impacts:

School refusal is not confined to a specific age group or demographic. It can affect children across various age brackets and socio-economic backgrounds, though sudden changes in family life can increase the risks. Recognizing the signs early is essential to reducing the long-term absences and impacts. Look out for:

Physical Complaints: Frequent complaints of headaches, stomach-aches, or other physical ailments, especially on school mornings. These can be a physical manifestation of the anxiety, stress, or psychological discomfort the young person is feeling. It is important not to blame them or imply they are ‘putting it on’ just to avoid school, most young people are not able to control these symptoms.

Behavioural Changes:  Sudden changes in behaviour, such as irritability, mood swings, or withdrawal from social activities. This is another indicator of psychological discomfort, and can be caused by any number of events, other symptoms, or emotions. Parents should avoid negative comments about the behaviour, and often the best outcomes are found when the parent is able to make space for the young person to come to them when ready. This isn’t to say ignore poor behaviours, rather wait for the best time to discuss rationally.

Academic Decline: A noticeable decline in academic performance can be an indication of underlying issues contributing to school refusal. This can be a circular symptom, as feeling out of place academically can lead to increased stress/anxiety, which rolls into further academic disruption. Having a supportive adult available to talk through emotions, and worrying thoughts can be beneficial. Parents can support this through being open and modelling their own difficulties and regulating practices. This can be as simple as discussing your day at dinner and being honest about the difficulties.

               Causes of School Refusal:

School refusal is often a manifestation of various underlying factors. Understanding these causes is crucial for parents seeking to support their children effectively. Common triggers include:

Anxiety Disorders:  Children may experience overwhelming anxiety related to school, ranging from social anxiety to generalized anxiety disorders.

Bullying: Persistent bullying at school can be a significant contributor to school refusal. The fear of facing tormentors can lead to a strong aversion to attending school.

Academic Challenges: Struggling with academic demands and feeling overwhelmed by schoolwork can result in avoidance behaviour.

Home/Family Life:  Events at home, such as family conflict, a major life change, or grief/loss can impact a child’s emotional well-being and contribute to school refusal.

                  What Help Is Available:

Parents faced with the challenge of school refusal can explore a range of interventions to support their children. Traditional approaches include counselling, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), and school-based interventions, whilst an alternative approach can include Neurotherapy.

Counselling and CBT: Professional counselling can help children express their feelings and develop coping mechanisms. Cognitive-behavioural therapy focuses on changing negative thought patterns. Such counselling can be provided by a variety of Mental Health practitioners including Psychologists, Social Workers, Nurses, and Counsellors.

School-Based Interventions: Collaborating with the school to implement targeted interventions, such as individualized education plans (IEPs) or anti-bullying programs, can be effective. Most schools have a wellbeing team that may be able to offer support, a referral if required, and in some cases run re-engagement programs to help student who have been absent return.

Neurotherapy: This includes Neurofeedback and Neuromodulation techniques which can involve training the brain to regulate its activity. These have been utilised to address anxiety and attention issues in children, particularly where children have refused to engage with traditional therapies. By working to reduce the nervous system dysregulation and allow the processing of the therapy to take place, the young people can communicate their needs, implement the strategies being put forward, and begin making progress.


School refusal is a multifaceted challenge that demands a thoughtful and tailored approach. By understanding the causes, recognizing the signs, and exploring various intervention options, parents can play a pivotal role in supporting their children. The Australian landscape offers a range of resources, from traditional counselling to innovative neurotherapy, providing hope for families grappling with this issue. Remember, early intervention is key, and seeking professional guidance ensures a comprehensive and effective strategy for overcoming school refusal.


Contact James at The Neurotherapy Clinic Victoria / Yarra Ranges Counselling to discuss how we can support you or your child.