A Solution for Chronic Absenteeism: Kids Want to Stay with Conscious Discipline! 


While issues of teacher shortage and teacher retention remain urgent in American schools, it’s not the only reason school buildings may seem empty these days— they’re also missing a fair share of students. In fact, about 1 in 3 students in the 2023 school year were what’s considered, “chronically absent.” Approximately 14.7 million public school students (30% of all enrollees) missed 10% of the school year or more.  

The impact of chronic absenteeism includes learning loss, declines in student achievement, reduced self-regulatory skills, and impaired well-being overall. However, there is some good news: In schools across the country, Conscious Discipline is helping to re-establish the felt sense of safety and belonging many lost during the pandemic, and to provide a supportive school culture in which students feel both seen and valued. According to Certified Instructor and co-presenter of the up-and-coming, two-day event Creating the School Family  Vicky Hepler, “We create an educational environment students want to show up for!” 

Why are Kids Missing School So Often? 

Ever since the juggling of virtual synchronous and asynchronous classes amidst health concerns at the onset of the pandemic, student attendance has been on the decline. According to Axios.com, there are several thoughts about why this is happening: 

  • Due to isolation and lack of socialization, students with diagnosed and undiagnosed learning disabilities went without proper support. 
  • The loss of daily interactions inhibited the development of meaningful relationships between students and teachers, thus affecting the desire to return to the school building. 
  • Learning loss, highlighted by mixed messaging about academic expectations and an unwelcoming environment, created anxiety, a lack of willingness to attend, and increased behavioral struggles. 
  • Systems that were once in place to address truancy and attendance were compromised or overlooked.  
  • The pandemic perpetuated chronic family illness or trauma, and exacerbated issues with housing and food insecurities. 

As a society, we have yet to recover from the devastating effects Covid-19 wreaked on our families, communities, and schools. The repercussions continue to manifest in student behavior and academic performance, including the ongoing issue of students who are chronically absent.  

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The Effects of Chronic Absenteeism 

Many families see missing a few days of school here and there as a minor concern. Experts say otherwise. Chronic absenteeism has academic, behavioral, emotional, and social repercussions that are long lasting and inequitable, especially among elementary school students. 

“Chronic absenteeism widens inequities,” said Hedy Chang, the executive director and president of Attendance Works; a nonprofit organization that collects data and partners with districts, communities and organizations to address student attendance. If we don’t address the issue of absenteeism in the elementary years, data indicates the problem will continue to worsen: Elementary students in grades K-2 who are frequently absent from school are less likely to read by the end of grade 3. They also experience increased academic and behavioral challenges in middle school. Elementary students of all ages who are chronically absent are more likely to drop out later due to falling behind academically and a lack of investment in the school community.  

Aside from the academic learning loss that occurs from not being present, students who are chronically absent miss out on learning essentials such as handling conflict, managing emotions, coping with disappointment, meaningful relationships, and developing the executive functioning skills that are critical for successful development. Essentially, chronic absenteeism clears the path for deeper dysregulation and poorer outcomes.  

Dysregulation and Student Absences 

According to Medical News Today, “emotional dysregulation” is a difficulty in regulating emotions, manifested in a variety of ways such as feeling overwhelmed by minor things, an inability to control impulsive behaviors, unpredictable outbursts, anxiety, depression, fluctuation in mood, etc. Children who have the ability to freely express and regulate their emotions make stronger relationship connections and see more academic success. Children who are dysregulated (not able to self-regulate) will often avoid circumstances and environments that prove to be too overstimulating—including school.  

Young children lack the meta-cognition to self-regulate, so teachers and staff must regulate themselves in order to co-regulate with children. Creating an environment that is supportive of co-regulation lays the groundwork for coaching students on the self-control strategies and skills that are imperative for a sense of agency and the ability to “show up” in their school community.  

Conscious Discipline as an Antidote to Chronic Absenteeism 

Conscious Discipline is an adult-first, evidence-based and trauma-responsive approach that focuses on self-regulation as a necessary pathway to optimal well-being. We encourage a shift to seeing all behavior (even chronic absenteeism) as a form of communication and recognize that it is our job to regulate ourselves first before figuring out the missing skill or unmet need the student’s behavior is indicating. We provide the tools, practices, and skills necessary for teachers and staff to self-regulate as the first step in establishing an environment in which co-regulation and creating a welcoming culture that inspires students to want to come to school becomes possible.  

Conscious Discipline implementation practices such as the building of a School Family in which students develop a felt sense of safety and belonging are on the forefront in the fight against chronic absenteeism and other behavioral issues. (Read here how one school decreased student behavioral referrals by implementing Conscious Discipline’s practices.) Routines and rituals such as Brain Smart Starts and Wish Wells develop a sense of unity in which students can foster deep connections with their peers and teachers, making it more unlikely for students to miss school. Creating a Safe Place within classrooms provides students with a physical location within the school setting for them to practice their self-regulation skills, reinforcing how school is a safe community in which to learn, grow, and best of all… stay.  

If you would like to face chronic absenteeism head on and learn more about implementing Conscious Discipline within your classroom, school or district, the following resources and events near you will help you to get started. 









Our transformative Conscious Discipline Institute is coming to more than a dozen locations nationwide this summer. Join us at a location near you in 2024:  


There is nothing like meeting up with your Conscious Discipline Family in person. Check out our events page often for the latest inspirational workshops, institutes, and conferences near you!