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(p. 1) What Are School Attendance Problems? 

(p. 1) What Are School Attendance Problems?
Chapter:
(p. 1) What Are School Attendance Problems?
Author(s):

Christopher A. Kearney

DOI:
10.1093/med-psych/9780197547496.003.0001
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date: 13 April 2021

“Jonathan has missed the last week of school! I can’t seem to get him out of bed in the morning. I feel so frustrated. What can I do?”

“Ashlee has a lot of trouble going to school in the morning. She cries a lot and seems so unhappy. This is so stressful for all of us. How can we help our daughter?”

“I just found out that Reggie has been skipping some classes at school. I can’t believe it! Why is he doing this? What happens now?”

“Will just seems to mope around, especially on Sunday nights. He’s always asking us to let him stay home. I’m so confused. Should I let him stay home for a few days?”

“I can get Madison to go to school but only after a long argument every morning! I’m so tired of this. What can we do to make the morning easier?”

“Valentina cries all the time at school and always wants me there. She hangs on to me at the playground as I try to drop her off. I feel so bad for her. Should I miss a few days of work and go to class with her?”

“Brett always seems to have stomachaches and headaches in the morning before school. He says he can’t go. Should I make him go? What’s wrong?”

Do any of these situations sound familiar to you? When a child has trouble attending school, or seems so unhappy about going to school, family members are often frustrated, distressed, shocked, (p. 2) confused, and angry. But that’s understandable. We naturally expect our children to eat their dinner, play with friends, sleep at night—and go to school in the morning! If a child has trouble doing any of these things, then family tension builds, everyone argues, and you may start wondering: What do we do now? What is going to happen? How can I get my child back to school? All of these reactions are normal.

Having a child with trouble attending school is upsetting because we do not like for our kids to be distressed, and we worry what will happen if they don’t receive their education. And, let’s face it, we have work and other things to do! I know the rush in the morning and what can happen if a child does not want to leave the home. What makes trouble attending school even more upsetting is that the problem can be hard to understand and resolve. But be assured: You can get your child to school with less distress! The main purpose of this book is to cover the different aspects of this problem and give you the means to handle all kinds of school attendance problems.

Types of School Attendance Problems

School attendance problems refer to any difficulty attending school or remaining in classes for an entire day. Other terms, such as truancy or chronic absenteeism, are sometimes used when discussing attendance problems, but these terms are often defined differently depending on a certain area. I use the term “school attendance problems” because it includes all children who have trouble going to or being in school. In other words, your child’s situation should be in this book!

A child may have different kinds of school attendance problems. A brief look at these problems is provided in Figure 1.1. A longer look at these problems follows here. Think about the problems that seem to apply most to your child and place a check mark next to those that do.

Figure 1.1 Forms of school attendance problems.

Figure 1.1 Forms of school attendance problems.

(p. 3)

  • Camila does in fact go to school but is often stressed while there and cries or has stomachaches or headaches when near school. She always seems to be pestering her mom and dad to stay home and constantly asks for home-based instruction. Camila also clings to her parents in the morning as they try to get her into the school building.

  • Hunter hopes to miss school by misbehaving in the morning; his common behaviors include dawdling, refusing to move, locking himself in a room or car, and having temper tantrums. Hunter’s parents often get their son to school but only after a huge battle between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m.

  • Stacy is often late to school as a result of dawdling or the other misbehaviors just mentioned for Hunter. She often shows up to school during a second-period class or at 10:30 that morning. Sometimes she is very anxious in the morning as well.

  • Parker will attend school only if one of his parents stays with him at school.

  • Jackson skips one or more classes during the day, such as ditching school after lunch to be with friends or missing a class that requires a test or oral presentation that day. He also has trouble eating in the school cafeteria with others.

  • Melissa misses a complete school day about once or twice per week.

  • Garrett has a history of missing long stretches of school days, such as a couple of weeks or even an entire semester.

(p. 4)

No caption availablePDF

Did you place several check marks next to the attendance problems I listed? If you did, that’s okay. Many children with trouble attending school show different kinds of attendance problems. Consider the case of Justin:

Justin is a 12-year-old boy who has just entered middle school and is having problems adjusting to the new setting. He seems a bit overwhelmed by the fact that he suddenly has several new teachers and classes and much more homework than before. In addition, Justin is nervous about so many of the older kids at his school and whether he will miss the bus after school. Lately he has been having problems getting up in the morning. During the past week alone, Justin refused to leave home on Monday in an attempt to miss school, skipped a class at school on Tuesday, was completely absent from school on Wednesday, was late to school on Thursday, and had no trouble attending school on Friday!

Obviously, a situation like Justin’s can be frustrating for everyone involved. A main challenge of school attendance problems is their unpredictability: A parent is often unsure what kind of problems to expect on any given morning. This is why a key goal of this book is to cover all of the attendance problems you are likely to see in the morning and during the school day and to help you address each of these. Let’s talk more about what this book is about.

(p. 5) What Is This Book About?

The main purpose of this book is to help parents and kids find solutions to school attendance problems. In doing so, I am relying on many years of experience working with these groups and helping parents get their kids back to school. As such, I can provide very specific suggestions for what you can do in the morning and the rest of the day to ensure that your child goes to school and stays in school for the entire day. In addition, I can provide you with some ways of helping your child go to school with less distress.

Chapter 1 is devoted to helping you understand what school attendance problems are as well as some of the common issues that come with these problems. Chapter 2 is designed to help you understand and determine the main reasons why your particular child is having trouble going to school. Discovering why your child has difficulty attending school is very important because methods of getting one child back to school are not necessarily best for getting another child back to school. We have to treat 6-year-old Jabari, who is crying to be with his mom, differently from 15-year-old Samantha, who is ditching school after lunch and does not want her parents to know where she is. One size does not fit all when it comes to kids with school attendance problems!

Once we know why your child has difficulty attending school, we can then discuss specific methods to help him or her go to school with less distress. These specific methods are covered in Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6. Although Chapters 3 through 6 are designed for different kinds of school attendance problems, I recommend that you read each chapter. You might find a certain suggestion that applies particularly well to your situation. In Chapter 7, I focus on ways of preventing school attendance problems from happening again and provide suggestions for special circumstances. In Chapter 8, I focus on severe school attendance problems and situations where school has been out of session for an extended period of time.

(p. 6) Will This Book Help Me?

This book will be more helpful for certain families than others (Table 1.1). Let’s explore different topics to help you decide whether this book is right for you.

Table 1.1 Will This Book Be Helpful to You?

This Book Will Be More Helpful to You If

This Book Will Be Less Helpful to You If

Your child is having trouble going to school or staying in school for an entire day.

Your child goes to school with ease and stays there but has trouble completing homework or listening at home.

Your child has recently started having difficulty attending school.

Your child has had difficulty attending school for a long period of time.

Your child has relatively few symptoms or problems.

Your child has many symptoms or problems.

Your child does not have severe behavior problems.

Your child has severe behavior problems, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, aggression, delinquent behavior, substance use, extreme anxiety and/or depression, or bipolar disorder.

Your child should be going to school but is not.

Your child is having trouble going to school because of some legitimate problem, such as illness or actual school threat.

Your child’s difficulty attending school is fairly stable.

Your child’s difficulty attending school is getting much worse by the day.

You are sure you want your child to go to school.

You are not sure you want your child to go to school.

Actual School Attendance Problems

This book will be helpful if your child is actually having trouble going to school or staying in school for an entire day. Parents often ask about their child’s refusal to complete homework, inability to make friends or speak at school, and trouble reading. These are important issues that can occur with school attendance problems, (p. 7) but they are not specifically addressed in this book. Instead, I focus mostly on attendance and distress issues. If you feel that issues other than school attendance problems apply to your child, then you may wish to consult a qualified mental health professional (addressed in a later section).

Length of School Attendance Problems

This book will be more helpful if your child has been having trouble attending school for less than 4 months. However, this book may also be helpful to some parents whose child previously had problems attending school, like Claire:

Claire is a 14-year-old girl in ninth grade who is having great difficulty attending school this September. Her parents say that Claire often feels bad when attending school and has already started ditching some classes to be with her friends. Claire had similar problems last year, but her attendance improved after a couple of months, and she had no problems going to school from November to June.

If your child has been having problems attending school for more than 4 months, then you may wish to consult a qualified mental health professional. Suggestions for lengthy school attendance problems are also provided in Chapter 8.

Other Problems

This book is intended for children and families who have fewer and less severe problems. This book will be more useful if your child’s school attendance problems are his or her main and sole behavior problem. If your child has difficulty attending school and has other problems, such as general noncompliance (not listening) at home or lack of friends, or more severe behavior problems like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or extreme depression, then you may wish (p. 8) to consult a qualified mental health professional. In addition, this book will be more helpful if your family members get along fairly well. You may be “up in arms” about your child’s trouble attending school, and this is normal. However, to get a child to go to school with less distress, parents must be a united team with mutual support. If you and your spouse or partner seem to be arguing a lot about many things, or if either of you has significant anxiety, depression, substance use, or other problems, then you may wish to consult a qualified mental health professional.

What If This Book Is Not Very Helpful to Me?

If you feel this book would be less helpful for you for the reasons listed in Table 1.1, then I recommend that your family consider seeing a qualified mental health professional. A clinical child psychologist has specialized training with youth with severe behavior problems. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who can prescribe medication for severe behavior problems. For many children with severe behavior problems that significantly interfere with daily life, seeing both a clinical child psychologist and a psychiatrist is a good idea.

If you decide to seek a mental health professional in your area, then consult with local people who are knowledgeable about who specializes in certain kinds of problems. Some mental health professionals have special training in substance use or depression. Others work closely with school officials to help resolve problems such as learning disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or intense school attendance problems. Consulting with psychology faculty at a local university is a good start when trying to find someone who best fits your situation. If you live in an area where this is not possible, then contact your state associations of psychologists and psychiatrists. In addition, talk to school counselors and other professionals at your child’s school who work with certain therapists. You may also consult the websites of national associations of mental health professionals (e.g., https://www.apa.org, https://www.abct.org, and https://www.psych.org).

(p. 9) Difficulty Attending School for Legitimate Reasons

This book will be more helpful if your child should be going to school but is still having trouble doing so. The book will be less helpful if your child is having trouble attending school for some legitimate reason. Legitimate reasons for not attending school include:

  • Medical condition

  • Physician or other professional appointment

  • Family emergency

  • Religious holiday

  • Haphazard weather

  • School-sanctioned release time for work–study, college, or other educational programs

  • Difficult family conditions that prevent school attendance

  • True school-based threats to personal self or property

True school-based threats usually include excessive teasing, taunting, bullying, verbal or physical assaults or intimidation, theft, property damage, and sexual or other maltreatment from peers, school officials, or others. If a child has difficulty attending school because he or she does not want to face these threats, then the threats must be resolved before any of the methods in this book are tried.

In this case, parents and school and legal officials should meet to resolve the threat. Solutions may include removing the bully or threat from school and reducing social isolation of the victim. Every instance of bullying must be reported and dealt with swiftly. Children should travel the school with friends, and school officials should better monitor potential threats and actively work to prevent them. If a bullying or otherwise threatening situation is resolved and a child is still having trouble going to school, then the strategies described in this book will be more helpful.

In related fashion, some children have trouble attending school because of a poor school climate. Youth may complain of tedious curricula, unnecessary homework, and boring or mean-spirited (p. 10) teachers. Other youth are in a racial minority at school, feel threatened by peers or ignored by teachers, suffer overcrowded classrooms, or are frustrated with school regulations that are biased or make little sense. Some children adjust to these situations in different ways, but other children decline to attend school.

A child’s complaints about school may be understandable and should be addressed. In this situation, I recommend extended and detailed discussions with school officials (counselors, teachers, administrators) to see what daily changes can be made to enhance a child’s satisfaction at school (within reason). Options may include changing class schedules and teachers and curricula (if possible and appropriate), integrating a child into extracurricular activities, setting up school-based incentives, and establishing extra tutoring services. Accommodation plans (see Chapter 6) are sometimes helpful in these situations. These plans allow for changes in regular school practices to fit the needs of a particular child with problems that interfere with his or her ability to learn.

Parents sometimes consider switching schools following persistent child demands or requests to go to a new school. I strongly recommend that you try to resolve your child’s attendance problems within your child’s current school. Allowing a child to switch schools is not always the best option because many of the problems at the old school, such as feeling socially isolated, will be present at the new school as well. Switching schools should be considered only as a last resort unless the child’s current school climate is extremely threatening, hostile, or unbearable.

School Withdrawal by Parents

Some parents deliberately keep their children home from school, a situation known as school withdrawal. Other parents are not particularly concerned about their children’s school attendance. Obviously, this book would not be very helpful in these situations. (p. 11) I assume you are reading this book because you do want your child to go to school with less distress and that you are highly motivated to help him or her do so.

Why do some parents deliberately keep their children home from school? Common reasons include:

  • Babysitting younger brothers and sisters

  • Asking a teenager to secure a job

  • Hiding signs of maltreatment from school officials

  • Protecting children from an ex-spouse or others

  • Helping parents with chores

  • Punishing the child for some misbehavior

  • Trouble on the part of parents to separate from their child

  • Excessive conflict with school officials

  • Keeping the child at home as a “safety person” if a parent is anxious

  • Fear of harm directed toward the child at school

What Difficulties Come With School Attendance Problems?

What are some common behavior problems found in children with trouble attending school? As you may already know, children with trouble attending school are likely to show different kinds of behavior problems. Behavior problems can be divided into those that are less obvious or clear and those that are more obvious or clear. When a child has difficulty attending school, he may have some of the following less obvious problems:

  • General anxiety or apprehension or worry that something bad will happen

  • Nervousness about being around others or having to perform before others

  • General sadness or moping about having to go to school

(p. 12) (Note: Often a child’s anxiety and sadness occur together and it is hard to tell which is which; the child may appear cranky, report a sense of dread or “feeling bad” about school, and wish to be left alone. This is common in children with attendance problems, and I talk more about this kind of nervous/sad behavior in Chapter 2.)

  • Irritability and restlessness

  • Fear of something specific to school, such as a school bus, cafeteria, or teacher

  • Physical problems such as stomachaches, headaches, abdominal pain, trembling, nausea, vomiting, frequent urination, muscle tension, diarrhea, dizziness, or fainting. Other physical problems might include heart tremors (palpitations), lightheadedness, shortness of breath, hyperventilation, sweating, and menstrual symptoms.

  • Trouble sleeping or a feeling of being overly tired, especially in the morning

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Withdrawal from others

A child with difficulty attending school may also show problems that are more obvious, such as the following:

  • Temper tantrums, including crying and screaming

  • Tearfulness or sobbing

  • Refusal to get out of bed or move in the morning

  • Noncompliance or defiance to parent or teacher commands or failing or refusing to do as told

  • Locking oneself in a room or car to avoid school

  • Running away from home to avoid school or running away from the school building

  • Clinging to a parent or other adult

  • Lying

  • Asking the same or similar questions over and over, such as “Do I really have to go to school tomorrow?” “Can’t I just stay home?” (p. 13) or “What if something bad happens?” These questions may come with statements said over and over, such as “I hate school,” “I don’t want to go to school,” or “You can’t make me go to school.”

  • Verbal or physical aggression toward oneself or others to miss school

No caption availablePDF

If you made several check marks next to the behaviors listed, that’s okay. Many children with trouble attending school show many of these behaviors, and these behaviors can even change from day to day! Consider the case of Lindsey:

Lindsey is an 8-year-old girl who has enormous problems getting to school in the morning. Her parents say that Lindsey will not get out of bed until the very last minute and dawdles through her morning tasks until everyone is late getting out of the home. Although this has led to a lot of family arguments, Lindsey says she does not want to go to school because she feels “nervous” and “sick” in the morning and “awful” while at school. When asked why she feels this way, Lindsey cannot say. In addition, Lindsey has been known to have temper tantrums in the morning, cry in the car on the way to school, and even call her mother names for trying to make her go to school.

You can see that Lindsey has problems that are less obvious or clear (feeling nervous, sick, and awful) and problems that are more obvious or clear (dawdling, tantrums, name-calling). Most children with trouble attending school show less obvious and more obvious (p. 14) behavior problems. As mentioned, these problems often change from day to day or week to week.

If your child has trouble attending school and you seem overwhelmed by all of his or her different behaviors, your feelings are normal. We will work on these behaviors together, and I will show you in Chapter 2 how to view your child’s behavior in a simpler, easier way. Let’s talk more next about school attendance problems.

How Common Are School Attendance Problems? Am I the Only One With a Child With Such a Problem?

Your child is not the only one with difficulty going to school. For many years, I have directed a treatment clinic for children with school attendance problems, and parents often express surprise that such a clinic exists or needs to exist! School attendance problems are common. Perhaps a third of children and adolescents will, at some time during their young lives, have trouble attending school. This includes different forms of school attendance problems mentioned previously, such as distress during school, morning misbehaviors, tardiness, skipping classes, and full-day absences.

What Do Children With School Attendance Problems Look Like?

Sometimes it can be hard to tell exactly what kind of child is most likely to have school attendance problems. School attendance problems seem to occur in boys and girls equally and are not necessarily linked to any particular racial or ethnic group. Children who enter a new school building for the first time do seem to be at risk of attendance problems. This includes not only children entering kindergarten or first grade, middle school, and high school, but also children who recently moved from one area to another and who have to enroll in a new school district. Many younger children also have trouble going to school for a full day for the first time.

(p. 15) Any school-aged child, however, such as one in fifth grade who has been going to the same elementary school for years, can have attendance problems. In many of these cases, problems attending school grow more and more intense over the years. Consider the case of Matt:

Matt is a 10-year-old boy in fifth grade who has missed the past 2 weeks of school. His parents report that Matt’s problems attending school actually started in second grade when he cried during much of September, but he seemed to improve afterward. In third grade, Matt’s nervousness and anxiety about school lasted until late October. In fourth grade, Matt began missing some school days altogether because he often seemed sick. Most of these days missed were Mondays. Toward the end of fourth grade, Matt made such trouble going to school that he missed the entire last week of school. His parents thought that fifth grade might be different, but Matt immediately started refusing to leave home for school as soon as the school year started.

If your child has been developing greater problems attending school over the years, be assured that this is common. What is most important is to address the problems early before school attendance problems become severe.

How Can I Help My Child Adjust to a New School?

Adjusting to new things can be hard for all of us, and children sometimes have problems managing a new school building or starting school for the first time. Some suggestions follow for helping your child during this tough transition. These suggestions may also be helpful if your child has previously had problems attending school and you are worried that the problems may happen again at the start of the school year:

  • Attend all orientation sessions that are held at your child’s school before the start of the school year. Be sure to bring your child with you!

  • Purchase or secure all necessary school supplies at least 1 week before the start of school.

  • With your child, walk around the school so that he and you become very familiar with the layout of the school. Show your child his classroom(s) as well as the cafeteria, gymnasium, library, art and music centers, bus areas, playground, and other relevant areas. Ask your child if she has any questions about getting from one place in school to another and address any concerns she has.

  • Arrange for you and your child to meet your child’s school counselor and teacher(s). Show your child the location of the main office and the counselor’s office so that he or she can stop by during the day to ask questions or express concerns.

  • Talk to your child about the school bus, including bus number, stops, times, and what to do if he or she misses the school bus. Practice the routine of getting to the school bus stop near home in the morning and at school in the afternoon.

  • About 2 weeks before the start of school, have your child begin the morning routine on weekdays as if preparing for school. He or she should arise from bed at a certain early time, wash, eat, dress, brush teeth, and complete other regular morning activities as if he or she were going to school that day. That way, going to school the first day will not be more difficult because of unfamiliarity with the morning routine.

  • The night before school starts, have a relaxed conversation with your child about last-minute concerns he or she might have about going to school the next day.

  • Plan to make your schedule flexible during your child’s first day of school in case he or she is nervous or takes a while to enter the school building.

  • Use a supportive but neutral and firm manner to require your child to go to school.

(p. 16) Medical Conditions

As mentioned, many children with school attendance problems have physical complaints such as headaches and stomachaches. Other medical conditions may also be present, such as asthma and (p. 17) other respiratory illnesses. Sleep problems are also frequent. Other common medical problems include influenza, allergies, dysmenorrhea (pain or discomfort surrounding a menstrual period), diabetes, lice, and dental disease. School attendance problems have also been linked to chronic conditions such as:

  • Cancer (uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells)

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (a general condition involving unexplained fatigue, weakness, muscle pain, and trouble thinking)

  • Crohn’s disease (an inflammatory problem often affecting the small intestine and colon)

  • Dyspepsia (upset stomach or indigestion)

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (changes in bowel habits involving diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, and cramping)

Of course, any medical condition not listed here could also affect a child’s school attendance. If your child has physical complaints or medical conditions related to school attendance problems, then be sure to first pursue comprehensive medical examinations and treatment. True medical problems must be addressed before using any procedures in this book. Do not assume that your child is faking physical symptoms.

A good place to start in this situation is with your family medical doctor or neighborhood children’s clinic. Be sure to fully describe your child’s symptoms and when they occur. Keep a log of your child’s symptoms so you know when they occur and how long they last. Note any symptoms that lessen on Saturdays and Sundays. If your doctor rules out a medical cause for the physical symptoms your child may have, then the procedures in this book may be more helpful.

Some children do fake physical symptoms to try to get out of having to go to school. Illness is a legitimate excuse for getting us out of many obligations, and children learn this at an early age. In addition, some children have minor physical symptoms that are not severe enough to show up on a medical test. These minor symptoms, such as stomach distress, are real, and some children make them (p. 18) seem worse for attention or to try to stay out of school. I talk about how to address these situations in Chapter 5.

What Happens to Children Who Have School Attendance Problems for a Long Time?

As you may already know, a child with trouble attending school for a long period of time may be at risk for certain kinds of related problems. In the short run, these children can become quite distressed. In addition, as a child misses more and more school, grades decline, schoolwork piles up, and friendships become strained or broken. Getting a child to go back to school after several missed weeks can be hard because the child feels overwhelmed by the amount of makeup work that is due and feels isolated from his classmates.

If a child misses a lot of school over the years, then she is at risk in the long run for dropping out of school. Dropping out of school is obviously a very serious problem because doing so prevents the child from securing further education and certain jobs. Studies of adolescents who drop out of school show that, as adults, they often have economic and psychological problems. However, these consequences do not necessarily apply to everyone who drops out of school.

What about the effect of school attendance problems on family members? In the short term, a child’s difficulty attending school can lead to chaos, distress, tension, arguing, and endless trips to school to meet with counselors, school psychologists, principals, teachers, and other educators. As a child’s attendance problems continue, a family may be faced with legal consequences and financial difficulty if work is missed. A sense of helplessness or despair may set in as well, and some children become less supervised.

School attendance problems are discouraging, but you can get your child to attend school on a regular basis and lower his distress (p. 19) level while there. Doing so will take work on your part and your child’s part. Following the guidelines in this book should help you accomplish what you want to accomplish. However, keep in mind that success for these kids does not always involve full-time school attendance (see Chapter 8).

Defining Success

How do you know if this book worked for you? The most obvious way of knowing that it worked is that your child is back in school and attending full time. In addition, she should be going to school with less distress. However, “success” for kids with school attendance problems sometimes means different things for different kids. For some older adolescents, especially those with long histories of attendance problems, success means that the teenager is enrolled in a modified credit program, alternative high school, hybrid courses, equivalency diploma program, summer classes, and/or school-based mental health services designed to improve school attendance (Chapter 8). If one of these programs helps a child receive a good education and a diploma, then I consider the program to be a success.

What If I Try the Methods in This Book and Nothing Happens?

If you try the methods in this book and they do not seem to help, then one of several things might be happening. First, your situation may not completely fit the purpose of this book, so different or more extensive procedures may be necessary; however, the procedures discussed in this book can still be done under the guidance of a qualified mental health professional, who can help you address intense issues and persistent school attendance problems.

(p. 20) Second, you may have applied the wrong methods for your child. If you think this is the case, then return to Chapter 2 to see exactly what is maintaining your child’s school attendance problems. Third, you may have tried the methods for only a short time. The methods in this book have to be carried out for the entire school year. Some parents get their child back to school and then lose a little focus. Instead, parents usually have to practice the methods in this book for at least several months.

Okay, What’s Next?

If you feel this book might be helpful to you and that it seems to apply to your situation, then let’s get started! I have a couple of things to ask you to do to set the groundwork for what is to come.

Contact Information

The first thing I would like you to do is make a list of relevant names, telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses that you will need. When helping a child get back to school with less distress, frequent communication between parents and school officials is necessary. I would like you to have all contact information at your fingertips. In the worksheet provided (Worksheet 1.1), write the names, main and cell phone numbers, and email addresses for the people listed.

Worksheet 1.1 Contact InformationPDF

Parent–School Official Discussions

The second thing I would like you to do is to immediately schedule direct meetings with your child’s teacher(s) and counselor. You may have already done this, but before using any of the methods in this book, I prefer that you do so again and let school officials know what you plan to do. For a child to get back to school with less distress, parents and school officials must be on the same page. In addition, if (p. 21) you have not already done so, speak with school officials about the following types of information:

  • Your child’s current enrollment status

  • Your child’s recent school absences (how many, what type, getting worse or better?)

  • Your child’s course schedule and current grades

  • Your child’s current homework and required makeup work

  • Your child’s current behavior in school, including his or her level of distress, interactions with peers and others, and any behavior problems

  • School rules regarding attendance, student conduct, and leaving the school campus during the day

  • Expected timeline and obstacles for getting your child back to school

  • Legal, disciplinary, and other consequences of continued school absences

Some of this information may be needed only one time, such as school policy about ongoing absences. Write down all of this important information and keep it close to you. Feel free to write this information in the blank pages of this book.

Other types of information change a lot and have to be updated constantly. This mostly applies to homework and makeup work. Write this information every week in the worksheet provided. Feel free to photocopy Worksheet 1.2 or download multiple copies from the companion website (https://www.oxfordclinicalpsych.com/schoolattendance).

Worksheet 1.2PDF

Finally, I have seen many cases of school attendance problems where parents and school officials do not like each other very much. School attendance problems often involve a lot of finger pointing and blame. I strongly encourage you to work to reduce friction with school officials as much as possible. Getting a child back to school with less distress has to be a team effort! Members of the team must work together. If friction exists, then I recommend that parents and educators communicate often and come to meetings with specific ideas for resolving a child’s attendance problem. (p. 22)

(p. 23)

(p. 24) On to Chapter 2

Now that you have everyone’s contact information and have spoken with school officials, I invite you to begin reading Chapter 2. There we discuss ways of discovering exactly what is maintaining your child’s trouble attending school. Once we figure that out, we can begin to work to fix the problem.