What to do when your kid says “I don’t want to go to school!”

Almost every morning before school, Jamie, 9, will scream, cry, throw a temper tantrum and do anything possible to stay home. “He’ll go on whining and crying, ‘I don’t feel good. I don’t want to go to school,” say his parents, Suzie and Bob, who report that they have hit the wall with his behaviour.

Every parent faces this situation at some point or other, when your child does not want to go to school. What can be done about it?

  • Identify the problem

Obviously, you cannot let your child have his wish and stay home. What can be done and should be done, is to identify the problem. Is it a desire to sleep more in the mornings? Is it workload? Is it bullying at school? Is it some problem with the teacher? Is school boring for him/her? Find out when the child is not emotionally upset, when he is in fact in a good mood.

  • Do not make it appealing to stay at home

Let your child know that if he’s truly sick, which is the only reason he is allowed to not to go to school, he will need to see a doctor, stay in bed and rest with his christmas pjs on, keep the TV or computers off, and so on. Ensure that if they stay home, they cannot do as they please. Don’t offer extra attention and sympathy when the child stays at home. The point is not to make it attractive to stay at home. Let the kid know your policy regarding school. For example, you can make it a rule that unless your child has a fever or some other serious illness, she goes to school.

  • Enforce strict bed time policy

Very often it is a desire to sleep more in the morning that makes a child want to stay home. The only remedy to this is to ensure that he gets enough sleep, by enforcing good bed time rules. Children need more sleep than adults, and typically, should go to bed earlier than adults. A good rule to follow is that if a child is expected to wake up at 5.30 a.m. she has to go to sleep at 8.00 or at least 8.30 p.m. the previous night.

  • Don’t give lengthy lectures on the importance of school

Avoid lengthy lectures and debates about the importance of going to school. It will not do any good, and will actually make matters worse. The child will gain negative attention, and it can reinforce and maintain the problem.

  • Is she being bullied at school?

Sometimes a child will not admit they are being bullied because they have been threatened by the bully to not tell anyone.

To find out if bullying is the reason your kid does not want to go to school, ask indirect questions that will make her share her experiences. But not in the morning. Discuss school at other times, always indirectly, and when the kid is in a mood to talk. If bullying is indeed the problem, teach her coping strategies like ignoring taunts and learning to find good friends. In case the problem is really serious, you may have to let the teacher and principal know what is going on, and work side by side with them to ensure that the bullying stops.

  • Is she anxious about school?

A strict teacher, not understanding what is being taught, not being able to make friends, and not being able to cope with being in a strange environment, are all causes for a child to feel anxious about school, and therefore not want to go to school. The only solution to coping with a strict teacher and not understanding what is being taught is to prepare the child for school by ensuring that

  1. Homework is done on time
  2. Revising at home whatever is taught each day
  3. Arranging extra help or tuition in the case of difficult subjects
  4. Keeping in touch with the school and teachers on a regular basis so as to know what exactly is happening in school.

However, if she is not able to make friends, or cannot cope in an environment other than home, other strategies need to be tried out. For example

  1. The parent can take the initiative to invite some of the classmates home for a play-date so that the kid is able to form friendships in the class.
  2. It can be arranged that the child goes to school not with the parent but with a friend
  3. Car-pooling or school bus is a good way to ensure that the child is accompanied by other children when she goes to school.
  4. Be reliable and on time with regard to school going time, and picking up the child after school.

Sometimes, children do not like to go to school since they cannot cope with school due to some learning disability. Parents will have to work very closely with teachers to understand if this is the problem. Very often learning disabilities manifest in the child not being able to read or write, or to understand what is being taught. Most learning disabilities are either verbal or nonverbal. The most common verbal learning disability is dyslexia, which causes people to have trouble recognizing letters and the sounds associated with them. Children with dyslexia will have trouble with reading and writing tasks or assignments.

Children with nonverbal learning disabilities may have difficulty processing what they see. A child with a nonverbal learning disability may confuse the plus sign with the sign for division.

The behavioural condition Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is often associated with learning disabilities because people with ADHD have a hard time focusing enough to learn and study. To understand what exactly is causing the child to fall behind others academically, the parent will have to work very closely with teachers. In some cases, it may be just a problem with vision or hearing.


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