What to Do When Your Child Doesn’t Want to Go to School

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.

Child Doesn't Want to Go to SchoolYour 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.

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

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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.

Little boy writing in school

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.

Learn the key to helping your child stop crying at school.

Crying at 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.

Children's Books about Going to School

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  1. Christopher Meyers says:

    This was the best article I found on this topic. Thanks so much!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Thanks, Christopher! I’m glad to hear it.

  2. Don't make it worse! says:

    My son went to a private preschool that was only 3 hrs a day. So when he went to all day public kindergarten it was a shock to him. After the first day he said he didn’t want to go back. I told him all the kids go to school and that he will too. He will make friends with the other kids.
    I never did the long crying dramatic goodbyes like parents do now. That’s soooo annoying and actually upsets the other children in the classroom. The student thinks “if mommy is sad and crying then if I hang on and cry she will take me home!” So then every single day gets more and more dramatic!!! Never tell the child they will get candy or a new toy if they go to class.
    Follow the normal drop off procedure at the school and leave. Even if the child flips out…leave. Don’t linger it makes it much worse for you, the child, the other children, the teacher. Maybe have a conference with the teacher for a game plan to help things go smoother for your child.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! I agree that lingering and crying and promising rewards likely do more damage than help.

  3. Hi,
    I have 2 twin boys age 6 who just started 1st grade in August, everything was going smooth until one day the teacher asked for a homework she had left and i forgot to send it in their backpack, so one of my kids freaked out because he thought he was in trouble, ever since that day he started having issues wanting to go to school, and so his brother does not want to go either, i am soo frustrated and clueless as to what to do so he can feel motivated to go to school like he did initially 🙁

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Cynthia! I can see why you would feel frustrated, especially when he had gone to school so willingly. One thing I would do is talk to the teacher to see if she observed anything different. She could also explain to him that he’s not in trouble and reassure him that all is well. At home, you can explain that making mistakes is normal and inevitable. It’s not about avoiding them at all costs, but learning how to cope with them. If you make a mistake, you might say, “Oops, mommy spilled water on the counter. No worries, I’ll just wipe it up with the rag.” That way, he learns that there are solutions to these mistakes.

  4. My son is eleven and doesn’t want to go school. He is not doing the homework and the teachers yell at him and it becomes a vicious circle. I think this is stressing him out. Do you have any suggestions? I am at my wits end.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      The first thing I would try to do is to show empathy. As difficult as their behavior is, there’s likely a valid reason for it. Maybe there’s been a huge change in the family, or he’s not understanding the material at school, or he’s struggling socially with his peers.

      See if you can make yourself available to listen, without any judgment. It can take time—he won’t suddenly open up to you the first several times, but at least he knows that you’re there. Be the consistent anchor he needs, so that he feels he can open up and rely on you for his problems. I’d also speak to his teachers and see what they recommend you can do. If they’re yelling, then they may not be patient with him, so maybe reach out to the principal if need be to get him the resources and guidance he truly needs.