What to do when your child doesn’t want to go to school anymore? Learn how to deal with your child’s anxiety about school.
Your child’s school is supposed to be an exciting change. Making new friends, going to a new campus, and being a “big kid.” Or so you thought.
It’s been a few weeks, and still, she doesn’t want to go to school. She wakes up crying every morning throwing temper tantrums about staying home or going back to her old school. Even her cool new backpack isn’t convincing her to go willingly.
You can’t seem to figure it out. Sure, she cried at her old school and daycare but settled in after a few days. And it doesn’t help when other kids are also crying, sending a ripple effect of anxiety.
Going to school—especially a new one—can be 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 and separation anxiety as well. For every First Day of Everything (preschool, TK, kindergarten, and even summer camp), they cried and didn’t want to go back.
It’s heartbreaking to see your child distraught about school. No amount of positive talk and encouragement seems to convince her to enjoy it. It makes you wonder whether she’ll always resist it, especially when it’s gone on for too long.
Thankfully, kids do eventually settle in, despite the initial school refusal. By the time the year ends, you might wonder how your child had ever fought going to school. And remember, however much she loved her old school or childcare, even those had at one point been new and intimidating.
I’d love to share what has worked with my kids behavior, and I hope they work for you as well:
1. Give clear and calm expectations
Some kids are outgoing, others more hesitant. Not everyone takes 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 it 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, or your expectations for distance learning at home. Get her excited about lunch (pack her favorite foods!) or fun art lessons she gets to do.
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“Thank you so much! I needed this after a struggle to get to school this morning with my 5 year old. Thanks for giving me peace of mind.” -Jessica Rathke
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 with your child and comforting him. But you might be sending the wrong message: That school isn’t a good place to be. That if you had a choice, you’d sweep him away from this place so he can be happy again.
Instead, acknowledge his emotions: “School is different, isn’t it? It’s hard when you don’t know a lot of people.”
Keep goodbyes brief and positive and let him know the school staff will take care of him. That he can enjoy the activities and that you’ll pick him up by 3pm. And leave feeling confident that the school will be a positive experience, not something he should cry about.
3. Talk about your days
Ask your child about school, and not just, “How was school?”
Without pestering, dive into what she did at school. Who did she see? 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 she doesn’t want to go to school, ask her why. Then, ask what you can do to help make it a better experience. She can feel better heard and 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 going to be home having fun. They didn’t understand why they were there instead of at home with me.
Let your child know what you’ll be working on so she understands we all have a place to be or things to do during the day. You might be at the office, running errands, or working at home. You’re not banishing her elsewhere—we have places to be, both kids and adults.
4. Allow your child to grieve her former school
It’s easy to focus so much on what’s ahead. We forget that just as our kids are adjusting to a new school, so too 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 your child. 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 about what she misses about her old school, or see if you can schedule a play date with grandma or her former 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 her 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 the 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 year needs a partnership among parents, teachers, and students. Work with her to come up with solutions that can help your child 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 your child got used to your company over summer break and can’t understand why she has 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 a cool new backpack.
Get more tips:
- The Most Powerful Way to Respond When You Feel Angry
- Top Children’s Books to Get Ready for First Grade
- What to Do When Your Child Cries at Drop Off
- How to Get Your Child Interested in School
- 6 Techniques to Teach Your Child to Love Math
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