Lesson 4

Lesson 4: Understanding the Impact of Parental Accommodation on Behavior


In today’s workshop, we’re talking about how parents helping their kids with school refusal can sometimes make things a bit tricky. You know, when kids don’t want to go to school, parents might let them skip things that make them anxious. But here’s the scoop – always letting them avoid stuff can actually make them less brave in handling tough situations. It’s like, if we always protect them, they might not feel confident to face challenges. So, we need to find a balance between helping and letting them tackle things on their own.

Now, what’s this word “accommodation” all about? In the world of school refusal, it means the changes parents and teachers make to make school less stressful for a child. It could be changes to how things are taught, routines, or what’s expected. While these changes might give a child a break for a bit, we need to think about how they affect the child in the long run. We want to avoid reinforcing the habit of avoiding school. Understanding and dealing with accommodation is the key to breaking this cycle and making school a positive and brave experience for our kids.

Today, we’ll explore how parents, caregivers, and educators might unknowingly contribute to school avoidance and how we can make positive changes.

Thank you for joining today’s Lesson. We hope you’ll gain insights into accommodations and their impact on school refusal. Remember, we can work together to make positive changes and support each other in this journey.


Shed light on how unintentional actions by parents affect a child’s behavior.
Recognize the various ways parents unintentionally accommodate their child’s behavior.
Identify alternative positive behaviors

What are Parental Accommodations?

When parents try to help their kids who are facing challenges, they might unknowingly make things a bit tricky. For example, if a child is anxious about something, parents might let them avoid it. It might seem helpful at first, but it can unintentionally teach the child to avoid challenges, and it doesn’t help them to learn how to cope and problem solve.  Imagine always letting them skip things that are tough – it might make them think it’s okay to avoid anything difficult. In the long run, this can make it harder for them to face difficulties and learn how to handle them. So, even though helping seems good, it’s essential to think about what it could be teaching the child in the long term.  It’s known that children who experience parental accommodations do not think they have the skills to deal with difficult life events.

Let’s watch a scene from the movie ‘Ray’ (2004) about the life of singer, Ray Charles. Five-year-old Ray Charles has lost his eyesight and stumbles and falls as he enters his childhood home and he cries for his mother, who remains silent. Despair grows in his mother’s stomach, her heart shattering. But as the urge to scoop him up and soothe him, sobs wells within her, she remembers his doctor’s words: “Let him learn to navigate this darkness on his own. He will find his way.” With a strength born of love and necessity, she forces herself to remain still, her own tears welling in her eyes. The pain is immense, but she knows that shielding him now will only hinder his ability to face the darkness that lies ahead.

Ray Charles’ mother, faced with the agonizing choice of offering immediate physical assistance to her young son who was experiencing distress, ultimately decided to withhold intervention. This seemingly counterintuitive act was grounded in a profound understanding of the potential benefits of struggle and the importance of fostering independence. By allowing Ray to navigate the challenging situation on his own, she aimed to facilitate the development of several crucial skills:

  1. Self-reliance: By overcoming obstacles without immediate external support, Ray would learn to trust his own abilities and resources, fostering a sense of self-efficacy that would be invaluable in the face of future challenges.
  2. Sensory development: Deprived of sight, Ray would be forced to rely on his remaining senses to navigate the world. This heightened awareness of sound, touch, and smell would become instrumental in his later development as a musician.
  3. Resilience: Overcoming the emotional and physical discomfort of the situation would build Ray’s resilience, enabling him to cope with future adversities and emerge stronger.
  4. Problem-solving: Navigating the challenges on his own would stimulate Ray’s problem-solving skills, teaching him to approach obstacles with creativity and resourcefulness.

While the decision to withhold assistance undoubtedly caused great emotional distress to both mother and child, it was ultimately driven by a long-term vision for Ray’s growth and development. By allowing him to confront difficulties early on, his mother laid the foundation for his independence, resilience, and eventual success.

The following is a list of common parental accommodations.  Do you make or have you made any of these accommodations so your child could avoid difficult situations?

Write down all accommodations you have made specifically for your child:

  • Let my child have a different meal from the rest of the family at dinner
  • Answered questions directed to my child
  • Answered questions directed to my child
  • Let my child sleep with the lights on
  • Let my child sleep in parent’s bed
  • Let my child stay home from school
  • Let my child avoid social engagements
  • Slept in my child’s bed with him/her
  • Drove/picked my child up from school to avoid the bus
  • Ordered for my child at a restaurant
  • Picked my child up from school early
  • Let my child have a “mental health day”
  • Got my child out of a school assignment by telling teacher about the child’s symptoms
  • Responded to text messages/calls from my child checking to see if I was okay
  • Avoided fireworks, loud movies, etc.
  • Parent stayed home from work
  • Came home early from an outing

Knowing that accommodations are being made in your household, think about how you can correct this to positively support your child instead. We’ll look at some alternative support next.

Accommodations and School Refusal

When parents make changes to support a child who refuses to go to school, these changes might not always be helpful. For example, if a child is worried about something at school, parents might let them avoid it. However, this can make the child less brave when dealing with tough situations, ultimately teaching them they cannot deal with tough situations.

Always letting them avoid things that make them uncomfortable might take away chances for them to learn how to handle tricky stuff. If we protect them too much, they won’t feel brave enough to face challenges because they’ve never learnt to navigate any tough times. So, finding a balance between helping and letting them face things is important in dealing with school refusal (and life in general).

Here are some accommodations which will reinforce the child avoiding school:

  1. Allowing Extended Screen Time as a Reward:
    • Accommodation: Permitting the child to spend more time on screens when they are avoiding school.
    • Negative Impact: This may inadvertently reinforce the behavior of avoiding school by associating it with a desirable reward (positive reinforcement).
  2. Avoidance of Academic Challenges:
    • Accommodation: Allowing the child to skip challenging academic tasks or modify assignments to reduce stress.
    • Negative Impact: This reinforces the avoidance of academic difficulties, hindering the development of resilience and problem-solving skills.
  3. Providing Constant Emotional Support During Avoidance:
    • Accommodation: Offering excessive comfort and reassurance when the child avoids school-related situations.
    • Negative Impact: This reinforces the idea that avoiding school is an acceptable way to cope with distress, rather than facing challenges.
  4. Excusing Missed Assignments or Exams:
    • Accommodation: Not enforcing consequences for missed assignments or exams due to school refusal.
    • Negative Impact: This sends the message that avoiding responsibilities has no consequences, potentially perpetuating the behavior.
  5. Flexible Academic Arrangements:
    • Accommodation: Allowing the child to have different assignments or lowering academic expectations to reduce stress.
    • Negative Impact: While well-intentioned, this signals to the child that avoiding challenging academic tasks is a valid solution.

These accommodations might help for a short time, but they can make school refusal behaviors stick around. A better way is to address the root issues and use gradual exposure strategies for long-term positive change. I think one of the saddest things that comes from accommodations is that the child does not have faith in their own ability to cope because they are never taught to have this powerful resilience tool.

Short-Term Relief vs. Long-Term Impact

Understanding why parents, caregivers, and educators go along with a child’s refusal to go to school is important to figure out how to change this behavior. In my experience, in most cases the accommodations are made by parents who very much love their child and do not want to see them in distress.  So, if you make accommodations for your child, please don’t think you’re a bad parent – of course you’re not.  Sadly though, accommodations can teach your child they can’t handle the big things – it takes away any power they might feel, so it’s not a productive strategy.

Let’s break down the reasons behind these accommodations and how they might unintentionally keep the cycle going:

Parental Anxiety:
Parents might let a child skip school because they’re worried about the child’s distress or scared it might get worse.  This accommodation unintentionally tells the child that school is really scary, reinforcing their anxiety.  In the long term, school refusing kids will grow into avoidant behaviors as adults which will cause major social, emotional and psychological issues throughout their lives.

Fear of Confrontation:
Parents or teachers might avoid talking to the child about going to school to dodge arguments or emotional upset.  Trying to avoid conflict unintentionally tells the child that it’s okay to refuse school, making the behavior stick around.  It’s best to have the tough discussions so you teach children how to resolve conflict in a healthy way.

Desire for Short-Term Relief:
Accommodating might seem like a quick fix to make the child feel better right away. While it helps for a bit, it also teaches the child that refusing school gets them what they want, making the behavior last and reinforces avoidance throughout their lives.

Misinterpretation of Needs:
Adults might think that accommodating is necessary for the child’s emotions.
Misinterpreting needs unintentionally tells the child that their feelings excuse them from going to school, or as an adult, work.

Lack of Awareness:
Parents or caregivers might not realize how letting the child skip school can make the problem worse. Not knowing the consequences can keep the behavior going without trying to stop it.

Previous Negative Experiences:
Bad things happening at school, like bullying or hard classes, might make parents want to protect the child by letting them skip.  This protection might make the child think school is always bad, reinforcing the refusal.

Pressure to Meet Immediate Emotional Needs:
Helping the child feel better right now might feel more important than fixing the refusal in the long run.   Putting immediate needs first might make the child think refusing school is the best way to feel better.

External Influences:
Outside things like what society expects or advice from friends and family might make parents choose to accommodate.  Accommodating because of outside influences can stop parents from finding the real reasons for school refusal.

Knowing these reasons helps parents, caregivers, and teachers come up with plans that really tackle why the child won’t go to school. It’s about creating an environment that helps the child beat the challenges of life.

Real-Life Examples – Do You Recognize Any?

Making changes to help your child avoid school might feel like the right thing to do, but it can actually make the problem worse. Here are some examples:

Morning Routine Adjustments:
What Happens: Letting the child sleep in to avoid morning stress.
Why It’s a Problem: Changes like this tell the child that it’s okay to skip parts of the day they find hard.

An alternative Supporting Strategy would be establishing a consistent morning routine with calming activities which can help the child start the day positively, reducing stress without allowing them to avoid school

Completing Homework Assignments:
What Happens: Parents doing the child’s homework to make things easier.
Why It’s a Problem: This makes the child think they can’t handle schoolwork alone, making them avoid it more.

An alternative Supporting Strategy would be offering guidance and encouragement while letting the child take charge of their homework to build their confidence and independence in handling schoolwork.

Negotiating School Attendance:
What Happens: Trying to make deals with the child to go to school only on certain days or for less time.
Why It’s a Problem: This shows the child that they can choose when to go to school, based on how they feel.

An alternative Supporting Strategy would be instead of negotiating, create a structured plan for gradual exposure to school, allowing the child to face challenges in manageable steps while building resilience.

Avoiding Triggers and Stressors:
What Happens: Letting the child skip classes or avoid subjects or teachers that bother them.
Why It’s a Problem: This makes the child believe that it’s okay to skip things that make them anxious.

An alternative Supporting Strategy would be gradually exposing the child to triggers in a controlled way, with support, which can help them develop coping skills instead of avoiding situations that make them anxious.

Reducing Academic Expectations:
What Happens: Lowering the bar for schoolwork to make it easier.
Why It’s a Problem: It tells the child they can’t meet normal academic standards, making them feel not good enough.

An alternative Supporting Strategy would be providing additional support and resources to meet academic standards to ensure the child feels capable, while reinforcing a sense of achievement.

Providing Constant Reassurance:
What Happens: Always telling the child everything will be okay to calm their anxiety.
Why It’s a Problem: This makes the child think they always need someone else to make them feel better, instead of learning to handle it themselves.

An alternative Supporting Strategy would be encouraging the child to practice self-soothing techniques and building their confidence in handling anxiety independently promoting emotional resilience.

Home-Schooling or Online Learning Only:
What Happens: Choosing home-schooling or online classes to avoid going to a physical school.
Why It’s a Problem: It tells the child that traditional schools are too hard, missing out on social and emotional growth.

An alternative Supporting Strategy would be encouraging participation in traditional school activities while providing additional support to help the child engage with the learning environment and social interactions.

Excessive Communication with Teachers:
What Happens: Constantly talking to teachers about the child’s problems.
Why It’s a Problem: While talking is good, too much involvement can make the child depend too much on parents for school stuff.

An alternative Supporting Strategy would be working with teachers to create a consistent plan – involving the child in discussions fosters independence and responsibility for their school-related challenges.

Allowing Frequent Breaks during School Hours:
What Happens: Letting the child take lots of breaks during the day.
Why It’s a Problem: It makes the child think it’s okay to avoid hard things by taking breaks whenever they want.

An alternative Supporting Strategy would be implementing a structured break schedule that aligns with the school routine will help the child manage stress without allowing them to avoid difficult situations.

Changing Schools Repeatedly:
What Happens: Switching schools often to give the child a fresh start.
Why It’s a Problem: It might feel better for a bit, but it doesn’t fix the real issues and can turn into a pattern of avoiding problems.

An alternative Supporting Strategy would be addressing the root causes of school refusal through therapeutic interventions and consistent support, rather than changing schools, which promotes long-term resilience and growth.

Understanding these examples helps parents, caregivers, and teachers see where they might be accidentally making things harder. It’s about finding ways to support the child without making them avoid school.

The Cycle of Accommodation and School Refusal:

Helping your child manage school refusal is tough, and sometimes the ways we try to make things easier can actually make it harder. Here’s how it happens:

Positive Reinforcement of Avoidance:
What Happens: Letting the child skip things that stress them about school.
Why It’s a Problem: The child learns that avoiding school gets rid of stress, making them think avoiding is a good way to deal with tough stuff.

Validation of Anxiety:
What Happens: Always reassuring the child or letting them avoid things to calm their worries.
Why It’s a Problem: It makes the child think it’s okay to always rely on others for comfort, not learning to handle stress on their own.

Consistency in Accommodative Measures:
What Happens: Always doing things to make it easier for the child to avoid school.
Why It’s a Problem: The child gets used to expecting that avoiding school will always be met with ways to make it easier.

Avoidance Becomes a Learned Response:
What Happens: Over time, the child learns that avoiding school gets them what they want.
Why It’s a Problem: This learned response makes avoiding school a strong habit because it always leads to getting what they need.

Parental Anxiety Transmission:
What Happens: If parents accommodate because they’re worried too, the child might pick up on that worry.
Why It’s a Problem: The child might start feeling even more nervous about school because they’ve learned it’s something to be worried about.

Negotiation as a Strategy:
What Happens: Trying to make deals with the child to get them to go to school.
Why It’s a Problem: If negotiation becomes a common way to get the child to school, they start thinking school attendance is up for negotiation.

Avoidance as a Default Response:
What Happens: When avoiding gets them out of tough situations, it becomes the go-to response.
Why It’s a Problem: The child might not learn better ways to deal with challenges, sticking to what they know – avoiding.

Lack of Gradual Exposure:
What Happens: Not gradually exposing the child to small challenges related to school.
Why It’s a Problem: Without facing smaller challenges, the child might struggle to handle the whole school environment.

Understanding these unintentional habits is important for parents and caregivers. It helps to break the cycle of making things easier for the child to avoid school. Instead, we want to help them learn better ways to handle the challenges of going to school.

Exploring Behavioral Consequences of Accommodation:

Let’s break down the effects of school refusal on both the child and the parent:

On the Child:

Learned Helplessness:
What Happens: Always helping the child avoid school can make them feel like they can’t handle things on their own.
How the Child Acts: They might not try to solve problems, feel unsure about taking the lead, and struggle to deal with challenges.

Increased Anxiety Sensitivity:
What Happens: Always making things easier for the child can make them more sensitive to feeling anxious.
How the Child Acts: They might get more stressed in situations they used to be able to cope with.

Dependency on External Reassurance:
What Happens: Always reassuring the child can make them rely too much on others to feel better.
How the Child Acts: They might seek comfort a lot, find it hard to calm themselves down, and feel really upset without someone reassuring them.

Limited Problem-Solving Skills:
What Happens: Making things easy might stop the child from learning how to solve problems.
How the Child Acts: They might struggle to face and handle difficulties on their own, turning to avoidance or needing others to step in.

Avoidance as a Coping Default:
What Happens: Always letting the child avoid things makes avoiding the go-to way of dealing with stress.
How the Child Acts: They might always choose to avoid instead of finding better ways to cope, which doesn’t help them become stronger emotionally.

On the Parent:

Increased Parental Stress:
What Happens: Constantly making things easier for the child can stress the parent out.
How the Parent Acts: They might feel more on edge, tired, and emotionally drained, affecting how they feel overall.

Strain on Family Relationships:
What Happens: Making special rules for one child can create tension in the family, especially if others feel left out.
How the Parent Acts: Arguments and conflicts might pop up, making the family dynamic less happy and the home less harmonious.

Limitation of Personal and Professional Activities:
What Happens: Always dealing with the child’s refusal might limit what the parent can do for themselves or at work.
How the Parent Acts: They might find it hard to pursue hobbies, hang out with friends, or focus on their job.

Shift in Parental Roles:
What Happens: Always focusing on the child’s avoidance might change how parents see their own role.
How the Parent Acts: They might put the child’s needs first, forgetting about their own well-being and other important parts of their life.

Vicarious Anxiety Transmission:
What Happens: If parents worry a lot, the child might pick up on that worry.
How the Parent Acts: Both the parent and the child might feel more stressed because they’re kind of passing the worry back and forth.

Understanding these effects helps parents, caregivers, and educators make changes that help kids learn better ways to handle school challenges and create a balanced and supportive family environment.

An example of supporting rather than accommodating

Let’s look at a scenario of a typical morning routine, and a look at some parental accommodating behaviours, then look at the same scenario with parental supporting behaviors: (NOTE: there is no audio/video for this section – please read through this section).

The scenario:

The child has woken up on a school day and says, ‘I’m sick’ and refuses to get out of bed.

Scenario 1: Accommodating behaviors:

  What the parent thinks/does   The result
I feel bad. If he’s sick, he really can’t go to school. Agreeing with and validating the anxiety ☹
I’m rushed to get to work. Pressured to make a call, if she stays home, she modifies household plans (trap) ☹
I’ll make him breakfast and let him stay home. Positive reinforcement of avoidance behaviors ☹
I’ll email his teachers for the work later. Completing tasks for him and removing responsibilities and expectations ☹

Scenario 2: Supporting behaviours:

What the parent says/does The result
‘I know it’s hard to get up when you’re not feeling your best, but I know you can do it.’ Empathizing and encouraging 😊
‘You need to get up and get moving.’ Setting clear expectations 😊
Removes comforter and pillow Not reinforcing avoidance 😊
‘Great job getting into the shower.’ Praise at each step 😊
Remember, if you go to school, you’ll earn computer time later today. Reminder of rewards – positive reinforcement 😊

While it’s natural for parents to want to make things easier for their children, constant accommodations may unintentionally hinder their long-term growth. Shielding them from challenges and discomfort might seem comforting in the short term, but it prevents them from learning essential life skills. Striking a balance between providing support and allowing children to face difficulties is crucial for their overall development. Encouraging resilience, problem-solving, and adaptability equips children with the tools needed to navigate the complexities of life. By avoiding excessive accommodations, parents can contribute to fostering independence and building the resilience necessary for their children to thrive in the face of challenges.


In the end, even though it might seem like a good idea to make things easier for your child when they’re struggling with school, it’s important to understand the impact it can have. Doing things like letting them skip parts of the day or always telling them everything will be okay might feel helpful at first, but it can actually make them less brave to face tough situations. Instead of always making things easier, it’s better to find ways to help them slowly get used to challenges and do things on their own. This way, they can build the strength to handle difficult situations not just in school but in life as well.

Okay, that’s the end of Lesson 4 – great work for making it this far.  We’ve discussed some pretty heavy content and psychological theories which I’m hoping are a great help to you – I’d love to hear your feedback.  Remember if you’re not quite sure you’re grasping the content, you can take the Lessons over as many times as you need.

Remember to head to the Lesson 4 Homework, Tips & Case Studies page to work through some exercises so you understand more about how damaging making accommodations for your child can be.   Remember to have the discussion in the forum or on the private Facebook page to chat about any wins you might have had this week, or anything you’re struggling with.  You’re surrounded by a community of parents who are going through the same issues, we don’t want you to feel alone.

Before you move onto Lesson 5, please complete the Homework for Lesson 4

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