What to Do When Your Child Resists Going to School

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Most children enjoy going to school because it offers many rewards. School provides opportunities for children to spread their wings and achieve independence, make friends and socialize, learn academic skills and feed natural curiosity. Frustrations in learning can make school a place to be avoided. Similarly, some children have difficulty understanding social relationships and making friends. Children resist going to school when its challenges outweigh its pleasurable aspects.

If a child who was once comfortable in school suddenly resists going, explore the environmental factors, both at school and at home. Perhaps there is an undesirable social situation, an unfavorable child-teacher match or some other stressful classroom issue. School resistance can occur at the start of school year in a new school setting, or also after a vacation, illness or other prolonged period at home. It can also be a reaction to a family loss or stress. Such environmental situations are best addressed by making appropriate environmental changes, identifying the issue with the child, developing good lines of communication and providing extra support. Repeated or prolonged resistance benefits from a three-step approach:

Maintain a kind, but firm, insistence that the child attend school. Some parents consider homeschooling, but that runs the risk of accommodating rather than solving the problem.

Let the child know that his parents understand that he is not being stubborn, babyish or seeking attention, but rather has feelings that he is unable to work out right now. Parents should reassure their child that he or she will one day be able to manage these feelings, and that they are getting help.

Get help from a mental health professional who can conduct the careful evaluation necessary to determine the basis of the child’s difficulties. An assessment can determine the appropriate options for addressing the situation.

School resistance is trying and discouraging for everyone. With assistance and perseverance, parents can feel confident that help is available and their child will one day look forward to school with confidence and enthusiasm.

The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the emotional health and well-being of children and families. Visit lucydanielscenter.org to learn more.