Every morning as soon as the alarm sounds, Nicole bounces out of
bed and hurries to get dressed and eat breakfast. She then energetically waves
goodbye to mom and dad and gets on the school bus because she doesn’t want to
miss even one day.
Not your child? Perhaps yours doesn’t even want to leave the
house in the morning, has publicly declared his hatred for school, is always complaining
of a stomachache, or is completely defiant about attending. What now?
First you should know that you aren’t alone and that your
child’s behavior is actually pretty common. According to the American Academy of
Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, not wanting to go to school may occur at any
time, but is most common in children between the ages of 5 and 7 as well as 11
and 14 – times when children are dealing with the new challenges of elementary
and middle school.
Kristin Dreyer, director of Dreamland Daycare in Poughkeepsie, says
that even the wee ones may also be stubborn about leaving mommy and daddy when
they arrive at preschool and scream or cling to your legs when it comes time to
“It is completely normal for a child to have a little bit of
separation anxiety,” says Dreyer. “The child might be worried about what time
their parents will return, what their parents are doing, why they can't be with
you, etc. I reassure parents that within a few minutes, all of the children
will be laughing, playing, and learning, and most likely will not mention the
parents until they walk through the door at pick up time.”
Children may also feel unsafe staying in a room
by themselves; display clinging behavior or excessive worry and fear about
parents or about harm to themselves; shadow mom or dad around the house; have
difficulty going to sleep; have nightmares or exaggerated, unrealistic fears of
animals, monster, burglars; fear being alone in the dark or even have severe
tantrums when forced to go to school.
“There are a lot of
reasons children do not want to go to school, including bullying, learning
problems, attention deficit, social anxiety, boredom and poor performance,” says Scott Schutzman, a licensed marriage and family therapist in
If your child is displaying physical symptoms,
such as stomachaches, headaches, nausea, dizziness, chest pain and joint pain,
it’s important to first talk to their pediatrician to rule out any potential illnesses.
Dreyer suggests that parents keep a log or journal of the time of day, day of the week, and any
symptoms that the child is complaining of when they do not want to go to
if your child is depressed, anxious or exhibiting some other type of unusual
behavior,” says Ellen Smith, a licensed clinical social worker in Poughkeepsie.
“Seek…help from a mental health professional before forcing a child who is
kicking and screaming…go to school.
Schutzman says, however, that communication with
your child is vitally important when it comes to getting your child to school.
“It is up to parents to be involved
from a very early age,” Schutzman adds. “It is safe to say that by the time a
child gets to a point where they do not want to go to school, that there has
already been some breakdown in communication. Sometimes it comes ‘out of the
blue’ one day, but not often.”
talk to their children regularly about what is on their mind. “Since school is
a major focus of their lives, it should not come as a surprise to a parent if
their child does not want to go to school,” says Smith. “Typically children
look forward to going to school most of the time. If a child is not speaking
about school at all, ask.”
that listening to what a child has to say without judging or criticizing is extremely
child opens up and reveals that she has experienced bullying, a parent should contact
the school and speak to the appropriate professional.”
are other standard techniques you can try to get your son or daughter to want
to attend school. Schutzman suggests a punishment if they do not go, but also a
reward system for their attendance and performance.
“It could just be a
matter of explaining to your child the importance of education, asking them
what they might want to be when they grow up and actually discussing what it
would take to get there,” he says.
says that communicating with others is important as well.
“Indeed it takes a
village,” he says. “There should be communication with a school social worker,
guidance counselor and teachers.”
with your child’s teacher to come up with a plan to get the child to school is
another way to help alleviate potential difficulties.
a teacher, I can talk with the child to see if I can help while they are at
school and see if we can come up tips, tricks, distractions and, of course,
solutions,” Dreyer says. “It might include anything from having a snack to
being the teacher’s helper, to setting up a reward system for the positive drop
off. I would also suggest for the family to make a connection between home and
school. Bring in something from home to share with the class, or initiate a
show and tell time. I would also recommend for the child to bring in pictures
of their family members or even make their family something special while at
Once the child starts
attending class, Dreyer says that it’s okay to call during the day to check in
“We can also send
pictures to the parent of their child enjoying their day,” she adds. “I would
reassure the parents that this is completely normal and we will work through
this together. It might be a process but it will all work out. It is just a
matter of time.”
Iannucci is a freelance writer who lives in Poughkeepsie and is a regular
contributor to Hudson Valley Parent.