What do you do when your child doesn’t want to go to school anymore? Learn how to deal with your child’s anxiety about school.
School is supposed to be an exciting change. Making new friends, going to a new campus, being a “big kid.”
Or so my friend thought.
It’s been a few weeks, and still her child doesn’t want to go to school. She cries every morning, wanting to stay home or go back to preschool. Even her cute new backpack isn’t convincing her enough.
It’s gotten so bad she’s tempted to pull her out of school.
She can’t seem to figure it out. Sure, her daughter cried at preschool and day care, but she settled in after a few days. And it doesn’t help when other kids are also crying, sending a ripple effect of anxiety on everyone.
My friend Queenie B. from Toronto is going through this right now with her daughter. It’s a hard transition for kids, especially if they’re moving from a small environment to a big one.
What to do when your child doesn’t want to go to school
My own three kids have struggled with school as well. For every First Day of Everything (preschool, TK, kindergarten and both times at camp), they’ve cried and didn’t want to go back.
Here’s what has worked with me, and I hope it works for you as well:
1. Give clear and calm expectations
Some kids are outgoing, others more hesitant. Not everyone will take to school the same way. Sometimes we pump school up for a child who may be more bashful or apprehensive about it. In an attempt to make school exciting, we might make it seem more overwhelming.
Instead, discuss school in an optimistic but not dramatic way. Point out what she might expect to do during the day. Describe drop offs and when you’ll pick her up. Get her excited about lunch (tip: pack her favorite foods!).
2. Keep goodbyes brief and confident
Some of the hardest goodbyes I see at school are from parents who linger. And who wouldn’t? Especially when our kids feel upset, tug at our shirts and plead with us, “Don’t go…”
You might assume you’re doing your duty by staying by your child and comforting her. But you’re sending the wrong message: That school isn’t a good place to be. That if you had a choice, you’d just sweep her away from this place so she can be happy again.
So it’s about finding a balance. Acknowledge her emotions: “School is different, isn’t it? It’s hard when you don’t know a lot of people.”
I now keep goodbyes brief and positive. I let my kids know their teacher will take care of them and that they’ll enjoy their school activities. I remind them I’ll pick them up by 3pm. And I leave feeling confident that the school will be a positive experience for them, not something they should cry about.
3. Talk about your days
Ask her about school, and not just, “How was school?”
Without pestering your child, dive into what she did at school. Who did she sit next to? What projects did she work on? What was her favorite part? How was lunch?
Keep communication open by asking about both the good and the bad. Get her to open up about the challenges facing her day. If your child doesn’t want to go to school anymore, ask her why. Then, ask her what you can do to help make it a better experience. She’ll feel better heard and may come up with a few solutions with you.
And finally, tell her what you’ll be doing. My twins resisted school for a while when they thought I was just going to be home having fun. They couldn’t understand why they were at school instead of at home with me.
Let them know what you’ll be working on so they understand we all have a place to be during the day. You might be at the office, running errands, or working at home (as both Queenie and I do). We’re not just banishing our kids elsewhere—we have places to be, both kids and adults.
4. Allow your child to grieve over her old school
It’s easy to focus so much on what’s ahead. We forget that just as they’re adjusting to a new school, so are they saying goodbye to an old one.
My eldest had to say goodbye to summer camp to welcome first grade. And before that, he said goodbye to kindergarten before entering summer camp. It’s an endless transition every year.
It’s not always an old school, either—maybe your nanny or mom took care of her. Either way, she’s dealing with two difficult emotions: facing a new environment and letting go of a routine she’s grown used to.
Address these real emotions. Talk to her about what she misses about preschool. See if you can schedule a play date with grandma or even her old nanny. She’ll feel reassured it’s okay to feel sad about saying goodbye and not excited about a new school.
And don’t rush her through these emotions, either. Help your child deal with her sadness. Just as no one tells us to hurry up feeling happy, you shouldn’t rush her out of difficult emotions, either. It’ll pass, as all feelings do.
5. Talk to her teacher
If you sense that your child’s attitude isn’t improving, talk to her teacher. Let her know your child doesn’t want to go to school and what she recommends. See if she observes the same resistance during class, or if your child is only more vocal about it at home.
A successful school year needs a partnership among parents, teachers and students. Work with your child’s teacher to come up with solutions that will help her enjoy going to school.
For many kids entering kindergarten, this signals a huge change in their lives. They’re not singing nursery rhymes or taking midday naps. Instead, they’re in the same territory as kids much older than them.
Other times, the challenge is the desire to be with you all day. Maybe they got used to your company over summer break and can’t understand why they have to be apart from you now.
As with many changes in children’s lives, this will likely peter out, even if it takes a while. Continue to paint an optimistic picture of school while keeping expectations real and calm. And if need be, discuss your concerns with her teacher and recruit an ally in her.
Your child can learn to enjoy going to school—with or without that cute new backpack.
Get more tips:
- Ask the Readers: Are Good Schools Overrated?
- 18 Sneaky Questions to Ask Kids about School
- What to Do when Your Child Cries at Drop Off
- Surprising Ways to Teach the Value of School
- 6 Techniques to Teach Your Child to Love Math
Tell me in the comments: What do you do when your child doesn’t want to go to school? How do help your child adjust?
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