School refusal, also called school phobia, is a form of separation anxiety. Children who attempt to refuse to go to school for more than a few days in a row might be suffering from anxiety related to a traumatic event. A very common cause of school refusal is divorce.

When parents are going through a divorce, there are significant changes in a child's life. The most common age for school refusal is between five and seven. If parents divorce during this time, a child might fear that going off to school may allow something tragic to happen. For example, children might fear that the parent with whom they live might also move out while they are at school, or that the parent might become distraught if left alone. Children feel a strong sense of responsibility for the feelings and well-being of their parents. If a parent has been visibly upset by the process of divorce, the child might feel a subconscious need to stay home and care for the parent.


Children who refuse to go to school often display a number of other symptoms of anxiety, including:

  • Regression
  • Sleeplessness
  • Tantrums
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nightmares or night terrors

Children might exhibit a period of crying or begging to stay home shortly before it is time to leave for school. Young children often invent symptoms of illness, such as stomachaches, sore throats and earaches to stay home. Once allowed to stay home from school, their mood and health miraculously stabilize.


If a child is anxious and fears going to school, it is important to rule out any issues related to school before assuming school refusal is the problem. Speak to the child's teacher and classmates' parents to rule out issues of bullying, violence or even just a difficult math test approaching.

If parents have addressed the school refusal with the teachers and the child and it does not resolve within a few days or a week, parents should consider treatment with a qualified therapist for the child's anxiety.

If issues surrounding your divorce are causing tension in your family, seek the advice of a skilled divorce attorney. An effective attorney can help your divorce go more smoothly.

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