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Daughter Refuses to Go to School

Middle School Expert Advice from Connie Collins

Q: My 14-year-old daughter is refusing to go to school. She used to attend school regularly, until about a year ago when 15 kids coming out of school jumped her. I changed her school but since then her attendance has plummeted. I have tried talking with school staff (teachers, assistant principals, counselors), physically bringing her there, punishments, etc. -- all with no success. She is presently in therapy but her therapist does not feel that event should have traumatized her enough to cause her absences from school. What can I do?

A: I am intrigued by your statement that your daughter was "jumped by 15 kids." Was she physically hurt? What were the consequences for the students who assaulted her? Are they still there? What goes on in the new school as far as harassment -- not only for your daughter, but also for the other students? In other words, is the school a safe environment for learning? If the answers to these questions are that harassment of any kind is a problem at the school, then your daughter is doing just what many kids do at the junior-high level -- they drop out. Too many schools in our country are very hostile, unsafe learning places because of the continuous verbal harassment that does traumatize our children.

You say that you have talked with school staff, but you don't say what your daughter's reasons are for her truancy. Why is she refusing to go to school? Talk with her. Find out. If her explanations are reasonable, try to work out a compromise. Has she missed so much school that no longer feels left out, like she no longer belongs there? If so, ask whether the school would permit her to attend for a half-day schedule until she feels more comfortable.

Another real key is what she does when she stays home. Is she permitted to watch TV, call friends, shop, sleep, etc.? In other words, is she getting rewarded for staying home? You might want to take some of these actions if she refuses to go to school: Lock her out of the house, take her to work with you, and make her sit all day in one place. Call the police/truant officer and have them pick her up for truancy. If you contact a police/school resource officer ahead of time, they will often talk with children about the possible outcomes of continued truancy. Some jurisdictions will put habitual truants in detention. The latter is often a great wake up call!

Since your daughter is, at this point, out of control, I encourage you, her parents, to get involved in parenting classes of some kind for the support and ideas shared in those groups. Another resource of course is family counseling. Since your daughter is in therapy, it would be beneficial if the entire family got involved because your daughter's truancy has become everyone's problem now.

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Connie Collins, professional school counselor, worked for 35 years in public education as a teacher and counselor at the middle school and secondary levels. Collins worked daily with the parents of the students in her various schools, and has facilitated several parenting groups.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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