School Refusal

School Refusal Behaviour (SRB) is when a child or adolescent shows reluctance or refusal to remain in class all day or attend school on an ongoing basis (Lyon & Coltern, 2007; Heyne et al., 2019; & Sewell, 2008). 

Specialist Behaviour Support Services and Speech Pathology

Child in bed refusing to go to school

Defining school refusal behaviour

School Refusal Behaviour (SRB) is when a child or adolescent shows reluctance or refusal to remain in class all day or attend school on an ongoing basis (Lyon & Coltern, 2007; Heyne et al., 2019; & Sewell, 2008). Caregivers are aware that their child is staying home from school over a prolonged period of time.  SRB is seen in children and adolescents aged between 5 and 17 (Kearney, Cook, & Chapman, 2007).

School refusal behaviour as a part of normal development

Most children have occasional days when they do not want to go to school because they’re worried about something, such as a test, participating in a swimming carnival or seeing a peer they had an argument with the previous day. When this happens, families can help their child by talking through the issues, encouraging them or letting them have a rare day off school. Usually, this reluctance or refusal to go to school fades.

School refusal behaviour of concern

However, some children show a repetitive and persistent pattern of reluctance or refusal to attend school. When SRB is prolonged and ongoing, it becomes ingrained in the child.  Setzer and Salhauer (2001) use the following descriptors to identify the severity and the chronicity of the various types of SRB:

  • Initial SRB: Lasts for a brief period (less than two weeks) and may resolve without intervention.
  • Substantial SRB: Lasts for a minimum of two weeks and requires some form of intervention.
  • Acute SRB: Lasts for two weeks to one year, being a consistent problem for a majority of the time.
  • Chronic SRB: Interferes or overlaps with two or more academic years.

Impact of school refusal behaviour

Short-term impacts for the child include poor academic performance, family difficulties, difficulties with maintaining friendships, problems with peers, and increased risk of legal trouble which can lead to longer-term consequences (Kearney, 2001; Wijetunge & Lakmini, 2011). Long-term consequences include social isolation, academic underachievement, employment issues, increased risk of mental health problems and developing a psychiatric illness in adulthood, such as panic disorder and agoraphobia (Fremont, 2003; Flakierska-Praquin et al, 1997 and Sewell, 2008).

For the family, the resulting cumulative stress from supporting a child with SRB can lead to familial conflict, disrupted routines, increased financial expense and increased potential for poor supervision or child maltreatment (Kearney, 2001).

For the school, SRB presents a challenge and causes frustration. Therefore, it is vital that SRB is addressed as early as possible and that home and school work together to support the child.

Positive support resources for school refusal behaviour

Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) focuses on evidence-based strategies and person-centred supports that address the needs of the individual and the underschool refusal questioning causes of s of concern, to enhance the quality of life for both the individual and those that support them.

PBS recognises that there is no single cause for SRB . It is a complex that is a product of the interaction between multiple factors contributing to its development and persistence.

SRB is like the tip of the iceberg so it is essential to look beneath the surface to work out the why before we can address the problem. Behaviour Help resources are at hand.


S for School Refusal - Forms cover image

Download this free PDF guide

The forms contained in this pdf booklet are from the S for School Refusal: Positive Behaviour Support guide that can be used as part of the process of developing a PBS plan.

Download S for School Refusal - Forms

Which resources are right for you?


Based on the Taking CHARGE of Rainbow of Emotions Workbook this app helps children of all ages develop emotional regulation skills. The app guides the child to firstly, identify and express their emotion in appropriate ways. Then the child is guided to use emotional management tool/s from the CHARGE tool kit to manage their emotions in a healthy way.

The acronym CHARGE stands for the different categories of emotional management tools – Chat tools, Helpful thinking tools, Amusement tools, Relaxation tools, Good routine tools and Exercise tools.

Behaviour Help App - Using the evidence-based approach of Positive Behaviour Support (PBS), the Behaviour Help web-based app allows people supporting individuals with emotional and behavioural difficulties to complete a Functional Behaviour Analysis and put together a comprehensive Behaviour Support Plan (BSP). The BSP can then be used by everyone interacting with the individual to manage and prevent challenging behaviours and ultimately improve their lives, and the lives of those who support them.


Use the practical tools (checklists, forms, and strategies) in S for School Refusal: Positive Behaviour Support book to develop comprehensive PBS plans that can be used to support children of all ages consistently in all settings.

This invaluable guide is useful for parents, caregivers, educators in childcare, early childhood, primary and secondary schools, disability, mental health, allied health, and supervisory professionals.


Personalised and practical one to one help tailored specifically to your family.

Online Courses

Access these online courses anytime online to learn about a range of diagnoses, practical skills and strategies to help develop the individual’s emotional regulation skills. Also learn to utilise the positive behaviour support framework to address anxiety, aggression, ADHD, ASD and ODD.

SEL Educational Videos

Minimise or eliminate the occurrence of challenging behaviours by teaching children of all ages appropriate ways of communicating, interacting, managing their emotions and behaviours.

The SEL curriculum uses video modelling to provide direct, explicit and systematic teaching of the various skills by discussing the importance of the skill, modelling the skill so the child learns what the skill looks like? sounds like? feels like? and learn the skill in staged situations that simulate real life scenarios.


Personalised and practical behaviour therapy tailored specifically to your family.


Webinars discuss a range of practical strategies to guide your child learn positive ways of behaving and managing their emotions.


Attend our practical and interactive workshops to learn about a range of diagnoses, practical skills and strategies to help develop the individual’s emotions, behaviours, social and communication skills in your learning environment.

Ask Dolly

Since you’re here, you probably have questions and concerns. I am Dolly Bhargava, am here to help. I am a NDIS registered behaviour support practitioner and speech pathologist.

I have worked in a number of settings for over 21 years so, how can I help?

Please tell me what is worrying you right now and I will do my best to recommend resources and/or services that will be most useful to you in your situation.

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