by Kathleen Welch-Torres, Ph.D.
Some parents believe their child would never cut classes or ditch school. That naivety can prevent them from having honest discussions with their kids about the consequences of skipping school. A family that values education, shares a love of learning with their children and clearly communicates expectations about school attendance offers a good foundation for kids to choose to stay in school. But, it’s not a guarantee. If your child is skipping school, it’s important to address the problem swiftly and honestly.
Laws relating to truancy (repeated unexcused absences from school) vary from state to state. Depending upon how often your child is absent, his or her age, and where you live, skipping school could mean community service hours, fines, or even jail time. In addition, excessive absences have been correlated with lower academic performance and reduced high-school graduation rates. Here are some things to do if your child is skipping school:
First, ask your child why they are cutting class. If they are staying out of school due to stress from not doing well academically, talk with their teacher about options for extra help. If they consistently have trouble keeping up with their studies, ask that your child be tested for a learning disability. Other reasons that children ditch class are peer pressure, or a bullying situation that is making them fearful on campus. Creating a positive environment for communication will make it more likely that your child will speak honestly with you about these challenges, which will allow you to help them find solutions and get back to class.
If they are cutting class to hang out with friends, talk to your child about your rules for school attendance, and let them know there will be consequences, such as losing the privilege of having a cell phone, or not being allowed to attend parties or other events. Usually schools call parents when their children do not show up for class. But, monitor your child’s school attendance by communicating with them and/or checking in with teachers – especially if your child has a history of cutting classes.
Talk to your child about the real-life consequences of skipping school. Discuss truancy laws, school policies about participation on sports teams, and declining grades that could prevent them from attending college.
Make sure that not all the reasons you give your child for going to school are negative or fear-based. Learning can be fun! Many schools have after-school activities like band, drama or sports. At times, looking forward to these activities is enough to keep kids in school. Homework is a must, but remember that learning can be enjoyable and interesting. Resist becoming angry or frustrated with your child when helping him or her with homework. Staying patient and positive, while letting your child know you will be there to help them through the more challenging parts of learning, yields far better academic and psychological results.
If your child routinely skips school, and you’re having trouble getting him or her back on track, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Talk to your child’s teacher or school counselor to see what else can be done. If you are still not getting results, reach out to a community mental health provider. You are not alone.