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School Refusal by a 15 year Old

Reader’s Question: My daughter, Tina, is nearly fifteen.

She is deeply unhappy with school, she argues with her teachers and feels that they don’t treat her as an equal, but has a really good nucleus of friends who also truant for the same reasons. I have taken her to the doctors who say that she is going through a time of readjustment having relocated away from many of our family and friends, but only 40 miles, they still see everyone regularly and on much happier terms than they used to be.

My dilemma is that I need my daughter to be happy as she will never achieve anything if she is so unhappy. I physically can not get her out of bed most mornings. She will say she is unwell, headache, tummy ache etc and when I try to encourage her she really doesn’t seem to care. This is affecting so many aspects of our life as I end up late for work trying to talk to her. I’ve looked at her diet and eating habits etc etc.

If I try to make her go to school, she gets really quiet angry and aggressive , which in turn stresses me further. Last month we ended up almost fighting, she split both my lips and blackened most of my arm.

Am I really such a bad Mum that I can’t even motivate my own daughter to go to school?


Once they get to this age, and are this entrenched, trying
to get them back to school can be a self-defeating exercise.
For whatever reason, school has become a major “punishment”,
so any attempts to get her there are merely going to
escalate her resistance.

Far better to remove that goal completely. The real goal
is, of course, for Tina to feel happy, confident, and
motivated. If she can get into that state, she will then be
able to apply herself to whatever it takes for her to
succeed in life.

Clearly the current situation is not doing it for her. The
problem is that the government puts a lot of pressure on
parents (under pain of imprisonment!) To get their children
to attend school. Actually, in most countries, the law does
not require school. It requires Education, which can take
place in many settings other than school.

And that, I believe, is the best approach in these
situations. Remove the pressure to Go To School. Instead,
meet the children where they are at, (instead of where you
wish they were), and find what Does motivate them. Maybe it
is music, or drama, or fashion, or computing. Whatever it
is, find ways for them to experience some success in the
things they do enjoy.

Sometimes the education authorities (if they have enough
imagination) can help out with various different types of
education, including college courses, work
experiences/apprenticeships (Project 19 in UK), sheltered
classrooms – (Pupil Referral Units, as they are called in
the UK)

Then go from one small success to another. At the same
time, don’t make life too easy for them to do nothing (this
is another type of manipulation, just like the 3 year old!)

Progress may be slow. They may not “finish school”. But
hopefully they can start to discover some aspect of life
that is positive, and that will gradually lead them in a
more independent direction.

The other alternative is to continue to force the school
issue – and probably make no progress at all.

Unfortunately, what governments have never learnt is that,
in the long term, people are much more motivated by rewards
than punishments. Forcing people to go to school might help
the statistics, but rarely helps the children. Far better
to make education so exciting that the kids WANT to go to
school! But that is another soapbox issue!

Dr. Noel Swanson, Consultant Child Psychiatrist and author of The GOOD CHILD Guide, specializes in children's behavioural difficulties and writes a free newsletter for parents. He can be contacted through his website on Expert Parenting Advice.

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