When Children Resist Going to School
At Lucy Daniels Center, we learn a great deal about children’s feelings about going to school and how to help those who are reluctant to attend school. 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.
- Engage in new and enriching relationships with teachers.
- Develop confidence when they grow in their independence, socialization and learning.
When school presents challenges, they are typically minor, but can be significant for vulnerable children. School challenges can stem from a child’s difficulty with:
- Feeling comfortable and confident with independence and autonomy.
- Navigating the social landscape.
- Learning and working through obstacles that come with new skills and concepts.
- Turning to or seeking help from a teacher when help is needed.
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 may also occur after a vacation, illness or other prolonged period at home, or may 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.
When Resistance Persists
Frustrations in learning can make school a place to be avoided. Similarly, some children have difficulty understanding social relationships and making friends.
Repeated or ongoing episodes of school resistance usually have something to do with a child’s internal development. Children’s anxiety over being apart from his or her parents is, in the experience of Lucy Daniels Center’s educators and clinicians, the most common reason for repeated or prolonged school resistance. Often, such separation anxiety is expressed in other ways, too.
For example, a child may worry about her parents’ safety, not want to be alone (even in the house), resist babysitters and overnight visits with friends, fear intruders or evil figures, and experience sleep disturbances such as nightmares and difficulty falling or staying asleep alone.
When Resistance Ebbs and Flows
Our experience is that children who have intermittent resistance to school may not be gaining all that they can from the school experience. Much of their emotional energy is being diverted from regular school tasks to manage the same concerns that emerge during their active resistance.
Try this 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 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.