I don't want to go to school

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This is the singular phrase that parents dread to hear. While majority of our primary school kids troop willingly to school, not all children skip happily through the school gate.

Surviving the first day

I don’t want to go to school

School is a massive part of their lives and if they don’t like going, for whatever reasons, it can be extremely difficult all round.

There are tons of reasons for a child not wanting to go to school – bullying, boredom, changes in their lives making them feel insecure and sometimes no apparent reason at all.

Antonia Chitty, author of What to Do When Your Child Hates School (White Ladder Press) says:

“If your child has always gone to school happily, it can be a real problem when suddenly they start to object to going.  Primary-school-age children may not always be able to explain what the problem is either, so you need to do a bit of detective work to find out.  Some children will tell you that they dislike school, while others bottle it up inside.

There are signs that show if your child is secretly stressed and many children make their dislike of school evident by apparent “bad behaviour. They may be actively disruptive and unable to sit still, or easily distracted and dream instead of doing what they are asked.

This range of behaviour can indicate one of a number of problems – speak to your child’s teacher and the school’s special needs coordinator (SENCO) if these include bullying and events in their home life such as a bereavement or divorce.”

Citrix Chee, a private counsellor from Kang Ren Counselling agrees, “it’s always a bad sign when a child does not want to go to school.”

What can you do about it?

It might just be a short phase, so don’t react too much initially.

Lots of children have a few days when they’re not too keen on the idea of school.  Sometimes for no serious reason.  You might just ride it out without too much fuss and by not overreacting will prevent it turning into a more sustained problem.

“We had a phase when both of them were complaining about going to school every day.  It was tiresome and I had to chivvy them along a lot each morning.  I don’t know what was going on but it stopped after a few days of me standing firm and insisting they had to go.” – Sangeeta (twin sons, 7)

If the problem is acute or persists, try and ascertain the underlying cause.

Work on getting your child to open up when it’s not a ‘heat of the moment’ time.  So not when you’re late for school and they’re in tears.  If they won’t talk to you about it, perhaps they will with someone else – grandparents, an aunt or uncle or favourite babysitter?

Common reasons to look out for include bullying / friendship issues, boredom, learning difficulties and a poor relationship with a teacher.  A child who has a hearing or sight problem might also find school less enjoyable.

Speak to the teacher.

Find out what seems to be going on in school, especially if there’s evidence of bullying – a key cause of school hating.

“J started kicking up a massive fuss each morning and sometimes would be crying at bedtime about how she didn’t want to go in the next day.  I couldn’t get out of her what was going on for a while – although I knew it was about friends. I managed to piece together more when I’d spoken to the teacher. – Deb (daughter, 8)

Keep a dialogue open

If something major has happened in your child’s home life, such as divorce or bereavement, keep a dialogue open with the teacher.  This way they can provide any extra reassurance or support for your child.  You will also need to reassure them yourself that you/another carer will be there when they get home/to pick them up.

Watch out for fake illnesses

These are one of the most common signs of not wanting to go to school in children this age.  Annoyingly, it can be hard to know when they’re crying wolf and when they’re really ill.  Nine times out of ten, threatening a trip to the doctors will get illness fibbers to confess that they were making it up or make them miraculously better in seconds.

Excerpt taken from Raising Children – The Primary Years by Liat Hughes Joshi (Pearson)