From The Banner


When Your Child Doesn’t Want To Go To School

By Jeff Waxman

All children experience an occasional reluctance to going to school. There are many reasons for this… after all, sometimes, we adults don’t want to go to work! It’s understandable.  

Perhaps a long school vacation has just ended, or maybe it’s just a typical Monday morning that has triggered feelings of not wanting to go to school. Your child could just be out of the rhythm of school having gotten used to the “home routine”. In cases like these, experts say it’s best to get children back into school as quickly as possible, in order to jump back into their familiar routine.  

According to, a parenting website, there is an emotional condition (not a clinical diagnosis) called “school refusal” where a child will experience great upset at the idea of going to school that makes it difficult for them to leave the house, or to stay in school. And the tendency is for the upset not to go away. If it goes on for weeks or months, it may be time to take action.

Now, as a former teacher, I can tell you that nine times out of ten, an emotional meltdown about not wanting to come to school (or not wanting to enter into the classroom, if you have already arrived at school) is mostly “for your benefit”. It’s a kind of a last-minute test to see if you as the parent have the emotional stamina to handle a strong push to do something else – anything else. Often, it’s a bid for more connection, to stay together longer, or to avoid separating. But generally, five to ten minutes after you leave, your child is completely calm, being comforted by a classmate, or already starting to eat snack or initiate a work.

Recently, a parent confided that their child was resisting coming to school. Here are some things I suggested they try to help alleviate this recent development:


Students who are ages 3-5 are very much into their routines. At this age, help your child “zoom in” and focus on each step of their daily routine. Make a small book of photos (hardcopy) that your child could enjoy flipping through. Here they can see a picture of themselves brushing their teeth, in their pajamas, being read to, sleeping, waking up, eating breakfast, on the scooter, arriving at school, outside the classroom, getting a hug from you, shaking their teacher’s hand, doing a classroom work, and finally, being picked up from school. Then each morning while eating breakfast, they can look through the book to see where they are in the process, and to identify the steps that will come next. Goal: Often this can offer a sense of control, even in the act of page turning. Where children can feel that their day is “happening to them,” this activity offers predictability.


At drop-off, be consistent. Whatever your routine, STICK TO IT and do it the exact same way each day. Create a fun routine: 6 kisses and 4 hugs and a silly handshake… If you are confident and remind your child that you love him and that you will be back when he finishes his work, then separate quickly and do not hesitate, he will have an easier time too. GOAL: Make the drop-off process fun, predictable and affectionate while offering reassurance that “moms and dads always come back…”.


In the evening, at the dinner table, go around, and when first establishing this routine, parents first take turns something you did today that was fun. When you have finished, ask your child for one thing they did that was fun. Create a habit around this ritual of sharing one good thing from your day, to invite your child to do the same. You can also discuss one thing you were proud of, one thing that made you happy, or one thing that you learned today. Goal: Focus on the good, sharing time and conversation as a family, and reshaping the narrative of school from sadness and upset to joy and accomplishment.


At bedtime, do a quick gratitude list – tell 1-2 things that you are grateful for. Then invite your child to do the same. Again, goal is mindfulness, positivity, and helping to create positive energy for the family. Of course, the list doesn’t have to have anything to do with school, but hopefully school will make it onto the list sooner or later…


Find out from your child’s teacher who their friends are. Or if they are yet to have established a close and trusted friend, whose personality may be well suited to your child’s, in that you would like to arrange a playdate. It’s very fun for children to see their peers outside of school. It feels so different for them! When they see their teachers at a restaurant, for example, it’s like a miracle: they can’t believe we exist outside of school. I think they think we live at school! Creating a bridge between home and school with a classmate helps extend friendships and creates a positive association with school. 


Talk with your child’s classroom teacher to schedule a 15–20-minute window to come in and see the classroom. It really helps parents put their mind at ease to see what the vibe is, and how their child is getting on, first hand. It gives you lots to talk about, and be able to ask questions about.

As parents, we always want to listen to our children and validate their feelings. If there are struggles that your child is facing, you need to know what those are to help address them. Your child’s teacher will generally let you know if there is any sort of pattern of challenging behaviour, disagreements with other children, etc. But if you have not heard about anything from your child’s teacher and your child is complaining, seek out more information from school.

None of these strategies are meant to minimize sad feelings or take them away. Instead, it’s about creating a positive association with school and helping to boost self-confidence and push through something that may feel difficult. “When the going gets tough…” give your child the message that ” she’s got this..!” and that you believe in her. Once you have observed your child’s classroom, you can reinforce whatever you witnessed that is lovely and beautiful in the class, and perhaps do a little bit of a reframe with her. In life, looking on the bright side, and finding the gift and the opportunity in our daily challenges is an acquired skill that takes lots of practice.

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