It’s a bright sunny morning and you go into your child’s room to open the curtains. Your little one begins to stir and you cheerfully say “Time to get ready for school!” only to hear the reply that makes your heart sink: “I don’t wanna go to school”.
You know that it’s only a matter of time before your child starts listing other excuses such as “My stomach hurts,” “I think I have a fever,” and “I CAN’T go to school today.”
It’s frustrating and heartbreaking all at the same time when your child struggles with going to school. You worry and wonder what’s wrong, yet you also need your child to cooperate and get to school. When you’re faced with this problem, using the right approach is key for improving the situation and your child’s attendance record.
What should you do about it? Here are 5 steps to take to help you and your child get back on track:
1) Show Empathy
Do you feel like going to work every day? It’s unlikely that you can truthfully answer yes. No matter how awesome your job is, there are some days when you don’t feel like going. Your child’s job is to go to school and just like you, there are days when they won’t feel like going. Although it can be tough, let your child know that you understand what they’re feeling. For example, you might say “I’m sorry you don’t feel like going to school today. Some days I don’t feel like going to work either.” Acknowledge their feelings and allow them to express themselves.
2) Dig a Little Deeper
A day here or there of not wanting to go to school is something you might be able to chalk up to just not feeling like going. But, especially if it becomes a trend, you may have to dig deeper. For example, note down how often your child refuses to go to school. You can keep track of this information in your Picniic calendar. In addition, you may note the days your child complains of being sick or having a stomachache. If these are the excuses your child uses to get out of school, it can be helpful to note if your child still complains about the symptoms over the weekend or if they only come up on school days or if they are only mentioned on test days. This can help you determine if anxiety is a factor.
Ask more about why your child doesn’t want to go to school. Consider setting up a meeting with your child’s teacher to discuss any reasons that your child may not want to attend school. Some possibilities may include anxiety and bullying, but keep an open mind as it’s also possible that everything is ok at school as well.
If your child has been complaining of feeling sick or uncomfortable, you may also consider a doctor’s visit. This will rule out any illnesses as the cause of your child’s struggle to go to school. On the other hand, if you do find that your child’s sick, you’ll be able to get appropriate medical treatment.
Another possibility is that your child is struggling with anxiety. If your child shows serious distress in the form of uncontrollable crying or shows other signs of childhood anxiety such as clinginess, trouble concentrating, or signs of perfectionism, get a referral to a therapist.
3) Work Together
If you do end up working with a specialist, your child’s teacher or the doctor, make a plan for moving forward. When facing a diagnosis or an incidence of bullying, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and worried. However, do your best to provide a calm, stable presence for your child. If your child sees that you’re working as a team with the specialist, things are more likely to go smoothly for you.
4) Set Limits
Once you’ve determined the reason for your child’s reluctance to attend school it’s imperative to create some limits surrounding when your child can and can’t stay home. Many parents create a clear sick policy. In this case, you may decide that your child can only stay home from school if they’re running a fever or are vomiting. You can always tell your child that if they continue to feel sick, they can ask to see the school nurse and the nurse can decide whether they should be sent home. This can help take away some of the power struggle involved and greatly reduce your child trying to make up illnesses.
Other helpful limits should be set around your presence at school especially if your child is young. For example, you might promise your child three hugs and one kiss before you’ll leave them at the door. Or, if the teacher encourages you to stay for a bit, you could promise to sit with them for five minutes. If the goodbye is a struggle, creating a routine and putting some limits around your separation can help set clear expectations. This will also reduce the time you spend dropping off your child. Eventually, the routine will serve to make the goodbye easy.
5) Don’t Make Home Fun
Finally, if you do end up keeping your child at home, don’t make it a super-fun experience that will motivate your child to beg time and time again to stay at home. This means you shouldn’t allow screen time, for example. You may also want to spend some time completing school-like work with your child so that they stay on top of academics. From practicing reading to math challenges and handwriting practice, you can ensure that plenty of schoolwork gets done.
Dealing with a child who doesn’t want to go to school is not easy. However, with consistency, empathy and a support team, you can get through this difficult stage of your child’s life.
Have you dealt with a child who won’t go to school? What worked for you? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.