Help, My Kid Doesn't Want to Go to School



What to do when your child doesn't want to go to school

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 say goodbye.

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“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.

Keep watch

“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 Poughkeepsie.

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 school.

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“Notice 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.

The communication factor

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.”

Parents should 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.”

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Smith adds that listening to what a child has to say without judging or criticizing is extremely important.

“If your child opens up and reveals that she has experienced bullying, a parent should contact the school and speak to the appropriate professional.”

There 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.

Additionally, Schutzman 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.” 

Teamwork

Working 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.

“As 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 school.”

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Once the child starts attending class, Dreyer says that it’s okay to call during the day to check in on them.

“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.”

 

Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer who lives in Poughkeepsie and is a regular contributor to Hudson Valley Parent.