It is a phone call parents dread receiving.

“Hello, this is the school attendance office. Your child is reported absent from periods 1, 4,and 7.”

Skipping school, “playing hookie”, cutting class is still truancy, whatever you want to call it. As a parent how you deal with it the first time you are notified is going to either allow the problem  to perpetuate or nip it in the bud.

It is important to recognize there are laws holding parents accountable for the attendance of their child which in some states can include jail time and stiff fines for parents. It is also crucial to recognize skipping school signals an underlying problem , and this is the way in which your child is bringing it to your attention.

It is important to pay attention to attendance because it is one of the best predictors of dropping out of school. For most kids dropping out of school is not an event, it is a process. It is vital  parents recognize the markers in the process and to seek help early.

“I went to the school during the second week of my daughter’s freshman year and asked for help and was told because she didn’t have an absence problem yet, there was nothing the school could do about it unless she was labeled truant.”

All too often I hear this story from parents.  Schools claim they do not have the resources in light of budget cuts, or they are unwilling to take preventative measures. As a parent and the person who knows your child best, my advice is to become the squeaky wheel at the school and document the responses you receive from each person with whom you speak.

Meanwhile, at home, it is important to talk about the importance of school, create an environment that supports completing school homework with structured times and noncompeting family activities, and there are immediate and significant consequences for nonattendance.   Don’t let a single incident go without investigation and consequences.

In my work with students I often find students who are not coming to school have experienced a stressful or traumatic event in their life, such as parental divorce or separation, being bullied by classmates, or are experiencing a non-specific lack of attachment to school.

Creating a sense of belonging in school is essential to keep students engaged in school. Unfortunately, with the emphasis placed on high academic achievement, many students would engage through extracurricular activities and sports participation are excluded from participating because of their low academic standing.  Belonging and identifying with a positive peer group is essential for teens. If your child does not qualify to participate in school activities seek other venues for participation.  Boys and Girls Clubs, church groups, recreation centers, volunteer and community service activities all provide opportunity for positive group participation.

Five Steps to Dealing with Refusing to Go to School:

  1. Make sure the rule to attend school every day, all day is clearly understood by your child and that you also honor this rule when making dr’s, dentist and other appointments for your child. Make sure the consequences for nonattendance are understood.
  2. When you receive a call from the school, respond as soon as possible to gather the information you will need to confront your child. Talk not only to the attendance office, but the teacher whose classe(s) were skipped.
  3. Be confident, detached and in control when discussing the situation with your child. Enforce the consequences without negotiation and with as little emotion as possible. As one mother related, “I was so calm you would have thought I was just detailing what we were having for dinner.”
  4. Refrain from creating inadvertent positive consequences when your  teen refuses to go to school. Access to computers, cell phones (unless there is no house phone) transportation, video games, etc. are kept strictly off limits.  Unhook it, take it with you and lock it in your trunk if you must.
  5. Let them be responsible for the consequences at school AND at home. Home consequences are in addition to any consequences the school may give such as Saturday school attendance.

Students who do not attend school regularly often think school is boring, or difficult; it has little relevance to their life. They frequently view staff members as uncaring and unsupportive.   Lack of connectedness and feelings of belonging at school often make it difficult for kids who cut school to see that their choice is not a solution to their problem, but creating the exact reality they are trying to escape.