School Refusal Treatment

What to do when your anxious teenager won't go to school?
3 ways to help your teen now

Understanding School Refusal

What is school refusal exactly? 

School refusal occurs when a young person feels unable to go to school or stay at school. This can be due to a number of reasons, such as anxiety, bullying, or challenges within the school environment. 

When a young person struggles to attend school, it is not typically out of choice. It’s much more likely to be a sign of emotional difficulties, overwhelm or underlying issues.

It is therefore important to understand the reasons behind a young person’s school refusal and to provide support to help them overcome their anxieties. School refusal can manifest in different ways, but the common denominator is an intense fear or aversion to attending school.

6 common signs of school refusal:

1. Lack of interest in school or going to school

2. Avoidance of activities that involve going to school

3. Anxiety or fearfulness when thinking about or attending school

4. Physical complaints such as headaches or stomach aches when it is time to go to school

5. Difficulty concentrating or completing schoolwork

6. Decreased social interaction with friends and classmates

These signs may be exhibited by a teenager who is struggling to go to school or who avoids school altogether. 

School Refusal Treatment UK

Why is your teenager refusing to go to school?


There are several reasons why a teenager may refuse to go to school.

Anxiety: Many teenagers experience anxiety and stress due to the pressures of school. They may be worried about tests, grades, or social interactions with classmates. This can lead to overwhelm, increased anxious feelings and physically and emotionally being unable to be in school. 

Bullying: Bullying is a serious problem in schools and can contribute to a teenager’s decision to refuse to go to school. Teenagers who are bullied may feel unsafe, isolated, and unsupported. 

Dislike of the school environment: Some teenagers may simply dislike their school or find it uninteresting. They may feel that they don’t fit in or that they are not challenged academically. This can lead to a general feeling of apathy towards school. 

Family problems: Family problems, such as divorce, financial difficulties or a sick family member, can also contribute to a teenager’s decision to refuse to go to school. These problems can cause stress and anxiety that makes it difficult for a teenager to focus on their studies. They may even experience a form of separation anxiety when they are away from the family home.

Transition issues: Transitions, such as starting high school, can be difficult for some teenagers. They may feel overwhelmed by the change and unsure of where they fit in. This can lead to avoidance behaviours, such as skipping school or coming up with excuses not to go.

Lack of Support for Neurodivergence: Teens with Autism, ADHD or other neurodevelopmental diagnosis can find a neurotypical school environment and systems difficult if their needs are not being met. School refusal can be more prevalent for teens with neurodiversity, however, it’s by no means the only reason teens are unable to be in school.


How do you know if your child refuses to go to school due to anxiety?

Experiencing some low-level teenage anxiety can be a normal part of growing up and it’s not uncommon for children to say they feel unwell to avoid going to school. For some teenagers, however, anxiety can become more than just a passing phase. As a parent how do you know what to look out for?

What is Teenage Anxiety?

Firstly it’s good to understand what teenage anxiety is compared to feelings of nervousness and worry. Anxiety is a normal emotion that we all experience at different times in our lives. It is an emotional response to a perceived threat or danger. However, anxiety becomes a concern when we experience emotional and physical signs of anxiety about things that are normally non-threatening. 

For teenagers, anxiety can be especially pronounced during periods of transition, such as starting high school or college. Teenage anxiety can also be triggered by specific events, such as taking a test or giving a presentation.

While teenage anxiety can manifest in different ways, there are some common signs and symptoms that parents should be aware of. These include: 

Teenage Anxiety School Refusal Help

Signs and Symptoms of Teenage Anxiety

Physical signs of anxiety:

Increased heart rate


Trembling and/or restlessness
Shortness of breath
Headache, feeling light-headed or dizzy
Nausea and/or vomitting
Urgent need for the toilet

Mental symptoms of anxiety:

Overwhelming feeling of worry
Constantly feeling tense, nervous, or on edge
Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
Feeling irritable or easily angered
Having difficulty concentrating or thinking about anything other than the anxious thoughts
Being withdrawn, wanting to spend more time alone, avoiding social interactions
Fearing getting things wrong, or being judged by others

Does my teenager have a school phobia?

When a teenager gets anxious about attending school and refuses to go, this is sometimes referred to as a school phobia. School refusal and school phobia are terms often used to describe the behaviour of a teenager not going to school due to anxiety. Although, in many cases the reasons for school refusal can often be broader than a fear or phobia of school alone.

If your teenager has a school phobia their anxiety symptoms can become present when they even think about going to school. They may have developed a fear of school itself or even travelling to school. Whether your teenager has a school phobia or is refusing to go to school due to generalised anxiety, the initial approach to managing school refusal is the same.

Managing School Refusal

How to deal with school refusal as a parent?

It can be difficult as a parent to know what to do for your teenager when they refuse to go to school. You worry about doing the right thing to help them and the consequences if they do or don’t go to school. It’s important to recognise you are not alone as a parent looking to support your teenage through a period of school refusal. Government figures indicate around 770,000 children in England alone are persistent absentees, and it’s likely increased post pandemic. Taking action early to support your teenager with overcoming their anxiety around school can help reduce the likely impact of refusing school being a long term issue. 

School refusal tips for parents

There are some key initial steps to take when first managing a school refusal situation as a parent. You can also contact your local council to see what support they can provide to support your teen with school refusal in the UK – learn more about school attendance help at


Talk to them about their concerns:

It is important to talk to your teenager about their reasons for not wanting to go to school. This will help you better understand their situation and figure out how to best support them. See ‘how to talk to a teen who refuses to go to school’. If your teenager struggles to talk to you about how they feel, ask if they would feel more comfortable writing about it. This is a good way for them to express themselves without fear you may interrupt. 

Speak to your GP:

If your teenager is showing any signs or symptoms of anxiety or complaining of being sick it’s important to get them checked out by your GP. They may offer medication for anxiety symptoms. You will need to consider this in discussion with your teenager to establish if this is the right approach for them.

Keep in contact with the school:

It is important to speak to your teenager’s teachers and school officials to get a better understanding of the situation. They may have awareness of something happening in the school that may have triggered their absence. The school will discuss what measures can be put in place to support your teenager.

Do Not's:

Do not force your teen back to school:

You might think that a bit of initial tough love will help or that once they get into school, your teen will be okay. However, if your teenager is suffering from anxiety or school phobia force, or emotional blackmail to get them back to school could increase the trauma and add to the problem. This can also result in truancy and withholding information from you.

Do not bribe or ask for them to promise attendance:

It can be tempting to think that offering a reward (that puppy they’ve always wanted) or bribe to get your teen back in school is being supportive. Along with asking your teenager to promise that they will attend school, these are likely to fail, set your teenager back on their recovery and make them feel like they have let you down.

Do not get overwhelmed:

Having your teenager refuse to go to school can be daunting and stressful. It’s easy to start to think their long-term education and prospects will suffer. It’s important to focus on the short-term actions you can take to get help for your teenager and acknowledge that getting them back to feeling mentally and emotionally fit is the priority before they return to a school setting.


What to say to a teen who refuses school?

As a parent, it can be difficult to know what to say to a teenager who refuses to go to school. However, it is important to try and talk to them about their concerns. This will help you better understand their situation and figure out how to best support them. You could say something like:

I’m sorry to hear that you don’t want to go to school. Can you tell me more about how you feel? I’m here to support you and we can figure this out together.

Use questions that start with “how, what, where and when, to encourage them to share more information with you. Take it slow, they may not want to talk about it all at once. Providing pauses after your questions will allow them to think about their responses and pause before you reply – this can help reduce any hightened emotions.

It’s best to avoid “why” questions such as “why do you feel anxious?”, or “why don’t you feel well?” These can feel like pressure to a teenager experiencing anxiety and they don’t necessarily know why they feel like they do.

Are you already beyond the first steps of managing school refusal?

If you are a parent who has already:

  • Had a referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and your teenager is now on a waiting list with no end in sight or has been told they are not at crisis point so unlikely to be seen soon
  • Had support for your teenager which was Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or counselling and whilst it helped a little it was not enough to get them feeling able to go back to school or engage in the world how they would like to
  • Feel you have exhausted all other resources in an attempt at finding relief for your teenager

There is still hope. These are the experiences I would hear from parents of anxious teenagers consistently in my practice and is the reason why I developed the Calmer Teens Programmes, to offer a more tailored, specialised programme to specifically support teenagers with anxiety-based school refusal. 




Can my teenager overcome their anxiety?

Put simply, yes, your teenager can overcome their anxiety with time and professional support.  Anxiety can become overwhelming and disruptive, and when you see your child struggling with anxiety it can be hard to imagine that it will ever improve. Fortunately, anxiety is a treatable condition and with the right help, your teenager can overcome their anxiety and return to school.

It may feel like a stretch to you right now but imagine the relief for you and your teenager when their anxiety starts to reduce, and they become more confident in how they feel. You get to see your teenager being calmer in everyday situations. Grow in confidence and even get to the stage where they can attend school regularly and feel comfortable in their academic environment.
You start to be able to get back to normal family life and feel the benefit as your own stress and worry reduce.

School Refusal Treatment UK


School Refusal

School Refusal Treatment

The Calmer Teens School Refusal Programme is a proven anxiety treatment that helps teenagers overcome their anxiety and return to school. The programme is tailored specifically to your teenager’s needs. It’s practical and engaging from the start. Outcome focussed and designed to help your teenager become anxiety free and back at school. If you are looking for treatment for school refusal or school refusal interventions UK then this programme could be the help your anxious teenager needs.

The anxiety treatment sessions consist of a combination of hypnotherapy, NLP and neuroscience-backed mindset techniques. We use these techniques to help them reprocess negative feelings, reduce their reaction to stressful or anxiety-inducing situations and help them take back control of how they want to feel.

When working with teenagers they need to be engaged quickly and feel at ease. They don’t usually want to talk for long periods of time about their issues. Their brain and mind are set up to learn quickly and have new experiences that engage them.

That’s why when I work with your teenager, I will quickly establish how they respond best and adapt the many mindset tools and techniques to their needs. Ultimately, we both want to help your teenager release their anxiety and feel empowered as they continue to grow.

Which Calmer Teens Programme does my teen need?

Calmer Tweens Programme

Suitable for 11-12 year olds

Tweens showing early signs of anxiety when they moved to high school

Tweens with intermittent school refusal

Tweens who are unable to attend school due to their anxiety

Calmer Teens Programme

Suitable for 13 – 16 year olds

Teens showing the early signs of anxiety in school

Teens with intermittent school refusal

Teens who are unable to attend school due to their anxiety

Calmer Teens Plus+ Programme

Suitable for 13- 16 year old

Teens who have long term intermittent or full school refusal due to their anxiety 

Teens who have tried other therapies but still need help to progress

Teens were enhanced support over a longer period is required

For teens 17-18 years please book a consultation call to discuss.

Benefits of the School Refusal Programme

Helps overcome the root cause of anxiety

No need for detailed talking about their anxiety

See improvements in just a few sessions

No long wait lists or assessments

Helps to build emotional resilience

Provides practical tools that can be used in everyday life

Is the Calmer Teens Programme exactly the help you were looking for?

Let’s talk to see if we’re the perfect match. We are? Then I’m excited to help your teenager get back to school with confidence and ease.

Arrange Your Free 20 Minute Consultation with Sarah Hayes – School Refusal Specialist
Sarah Hayes - School Refusal Therapist and Teenage Anxiety Therapist UK

Meet Sarah

School Refusal Specialist
and Teen Anxiety Hypnotherapist

Hi, I’m Sarah, I specialise in helping teenagers overcome their anxiety and feel confident to return to school. I’m a fully certified and registered clinical and paediatric hypnotherapist. My goal is to help teenagers get back on track, so they can progress forward with who they want to be. 

Learn more about Sarah

Sarah Hayes is a Clinical and Paediatric Hypnotherapist who specialises in helping teenagers overcome anxiety. Sarah loves working with young people and helping them to understand the power of their own mind. She has a friendly and approachable manner, and her passion for her work shines through.

Qualifications and Training:

  • BSc Hons Psychology

  • Diploma Master Hypnotist

  • D.Hyp Clinical Hypnotherapist

  • PNLP Practitioner Neuro-Linguistic Programming

  • Hypnotic Therapeutic Intervention

  • Advanced Hypnotherapy Certification



Inspiring Client Stories

Thank you for your support, kindness and time with Lilly. She has come on leaps and bounds, as a family, we can’t thank you enough.”

Lilly, 12

Lilly’s mum got in touch with me when she was frustrated with the lack of progress Lilly was receiving from her sessions with a Psychologist. Lilly was experiencing heightened anxiety symptoms when she transitioned to high school. She would become sick prior to school, on the way to school and most days was unable to stay in school.

After her first 2 sessions with me, Lilly was able to have her longest unbroken period of time in school. At the end of her treatment, Lilly was not only back in school full-time but was also awarded the ‘resilience’ award from the school year head for overcoming her anxiety and worry. 

Lilly’s mum was amazed at the progress her daughter made in such a short amount of time.

” We can’t thank you enough.  Jack did amazingly well last week – school started on Tuesday and he was in every day.  His general mood was positive and he was cheery all week.  

Jack, 12

Jack is a 12-year-old boy who experienced anxiety and panic attacks that led to him missing six months of high school.

Before working with me, Jack had been referred to CAMHS and provided with cognitive behavioural therapy, which helped him return to school for 2 weeks before he then felt unable to attend again.

Jack had a fear of attending school that was so severe that he would show signs of anxiety even talking about school. After working with Jack over a period of 6 weeks his anxiety reduced and he was able to do a phased return to full-time education with support from his school.

” She has gone into school successfully throughout the half term. It’s an amazing change from last year
and gives me huge hope that she will continue to build up
her resilience.

Megan, 15

Megan had been suffering from anxiety since she was 14yrs old which had increased when she returned to school after the pandemic. Megan was on a waiting list to see a children’s wellbeing practitioner when her mum decided to contact me for help.

Prior to working together Megan’s anxiety had been getting worse and she was often unable to stay in school. She would experience anxiety attacks and would fear being sick in school. Megan had tried various things such as breathing techniques to help herself but nothing seemed to work for long. After working together for 4 weeks I am pleased to say that Megan’s anxiety greatly reduced. She is now able to stay in school all day and is no longer experiencing anxiety attacks. 

Useful Resources
for parents

A Parental Guide

20 Min Consultation

Teen Anxiety Tips via Email

Coming Soon

Parenting an Anxious Teen Online Course



School Refusal Treatment

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is the Calmer Teens Programme for?

The Calmer Teens School Refusal Programme is designed to meet the needs of teenagers who are struggling to attend school due to anxiety.

Your teenager may be showing initial signs of anxiety and just starting to refuse to go to school, or they may have been absent from school for some time. The programme is suitable for both scenarios and can be adapted to suit your teenager’s needs.

Why is this different to CBT or counselling?

The Calmer Teens Programme is different from CBT and counselling as it works at both the conscious and subconscious levels of the mind.

Anxiety is an automatic fear response, which over time can become more dominant if we don’t learn to manage it. Our automatic protective responses (fight/flight/freeze) are run by our subconscious mind. When we work directly with the subconscious mind we can achieve effective long-lasting changes more quickly than using talking therapy alone. 

What age range do you work with?

I work with young people from age 11yrs to 18yrs. Each programme is tailored to a different age range and development stage. 

What happens in a session?

The content of each session is tailored to your teen’s needs. However, each session will include a combination of the following:

  • Intro and progress discussion
  • Hypnotherapy guided session – working on the root cause of anxiety.
  • A practical technique your teen can use as needed – such as a calming anchor which helps reduce the feeling of anxiety in the moment
  • Worksheet activities for your teen to complete between sessions (if needed*).

*Note: not all teenagers will benefit from written activities between initial sessions as this may trigger their anxiety. Worksheet activities will only be provided when benefical.

My teenager has ADHD is this suitable?

Yes, teenagers with ADHD can undertake the Calmer Teens Programme. 

Depending on how long your teenager can focus during the sessions, it may necessary to shorten the duration to suit their needs.

My teenager is on the autism spectrum - is this suitable?

Possibly. I do work with teens with an autism diagnosis. However, the best way to establish if the programme is suitable for your teenager is to have a telephone consultation so I can understand their preferences. 

Some teenagers that experience sensory overload may not be suited to the programme.



What modalities are used?

The Calmer Teens School Refusal Programme combines hypnotherapy, NLP and neuro-science-backed techniques.

What is hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy is the use of therapeutic techniques such as visualisation, reframing and emotional regulation whilst in a trance-like state. The experience is very similar to a guided meditation and feels like daydreaming to teenagers.

What is NLP?

NLP stands for neuro-linguistic programming. NLP comprises a set of tools and techniques used to achieve goals and promote change at a deep level. NLP is a practical approach which can be used in a wide variety of settings and is an effective way to deal with stress, anxiety and other negative emotions.

Neuroscience back techniques

Neuroscience looks at how the brain works. It provides researched backed techniques that can help to retrain the brain and alleviate anxiety symptoms.

Where does the programme take place?

The Calmer Teens School Refusal Programme is designed to take place online from the comfort of your own home.

This allows your teenager to be in an environment where they feel safe and in control. This also reduces the likelihood of your teenager refusing to travel due to their anxiety.

What support do you provide for parents?

Since developing the calmer teens programme I have become increasingly aware of the pressure and stress on parents of anxious teens. The revised programme (effective Sept 2023) now includes a full 1-2-1 parental session in which we cover ways to support your teen and provides you with the opportunity to experience a stress release hypnotherapy session. 

Overcome Teenage Anxiety and go back to school with confidence - School Refusal Treatment - Therapy for School Refusal

The Calmer Teens Programme

The Calmer Teens Programme

Office 7304

182-184 High Street North,

East Ham,


E6 2JA


Contact Details


Tel: 020  8144 6603


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