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“I don’t want to go to school” – every parent’s nightmare

”I don’t want to go to school today.” These are the words that every parent dreads hearing, especially in the fraught chaos that usually accompanies the morning routine of most families, says Paul Crisell, acting headmaster of Barrow Hills School in Witley, nr Godalming.

But before the panic sets in, visions of having to find another school at short notice, potential home schooling, not to mention new uniforms take over, it might just be worth reading this article.

A child may not want to go to school for a number of reasons. I can certainly cast my mind back 38 years and recall quite clearly not wanting to go to my Reception class on a handful of occasions. I can’t even remember why, but I do remember clinging to my mother for dear life, crying, kicking and making a noise that must have emanated throughout every corridor in the building.

I can also remember being aged 13 and getting out of the car on a Sunday night to be dropped off at boarding school and not being terribly happy about it. But to put these events into perspective, what I know now is that after all those years of attending school as a pupil, I definitely got over those occasional ‘off days’ and actually came to really enjoy the school environment. So much so that I’ve invested the last 25 years working in one as a teacher!

Whilst it is not a common occurrence in the school where I teach , there are – and I’m sure always will be – some occasions when children simply don’t want to come to school. For the parent, this can be – depending on the scene a child makes or what they say – at the very least frustrating, often upsetting and sometimes extremely worrying. Typically, these scenes tend to play themselves out when time is at a premium and everyone is rushing around determined not to be late for their morning appointments. Quite often the statement comes as a bolt out of the blue and you have absolutely no idea why your child is showing a sudden resistance to school. But rest assured, there are steps that you can take to get to the root cause of the issue – if indeed there is one at all.

So, what are the potential reasons behind your child’s clear aversion to school?

Unsurprisingly, there could be just one or just a few reasons. These include being separated from the established bond with mum who provides a sense of security and support; the change of routine which can trigger anxiety; feelings of inadequacy if they are struggling to complete a particular task / in a particular subject or friendship issues. It can sometimes even be the stark realisation that school is now part and parcel of everyday life and your child is rebelling against the fact that the freedom to choose what to do most of the day is gone. Or even something as simple as not wanting to use a different lavatory!

What is important at this stage, is how you as a parent respond when faced with a child who simply does not want to let go. Firstly, let your child know that you are in charge, not them, so be quietly assertive but stay calm. Hand your child over to the teacher quickly and do not linger (tempting I know) in the background to check that all is well. Children rarely stay unsettled for more than a few minutes but are quite capable of putting on a show if it means it might get the parents’ attention. Even the youngest children will know how to ‘press your buttons’.

Any school worth their salt will call to provide reassurance that your child has settled on the first day or two that he / she might exhibit this type of behaviour. After that, no news is good news and you can assume that your child is fine and getting on with their day. The teacher will most likely confirm this to you at pick up time.

Do talk to your child’s teacher so that you can both dig deeper and try and identify the reason behind the reluctance to go to school. You can then work together as a team to develop a strategy to deal with the problem – and then stick to it. At home, focus on talking about the positive aspects of school, create a sense of excitement about what might be happening during the upcoming week (the teacher can tell you this) and yes, possibly use simple rewards such as a play in the park (but not money or sweets) to encourage the appropriate behaviour and acceptance of the need to go to school with minimum fuss.

It’s not easy being a parent and sometimes you may find it helpful to share your experiences with other mums and dads, as most have had to deal with this type of issue at some point in their child’s life. Likewise, staff at the school will have a wealth of experience you can tap into, along with useful practical solutions to change your child’s perception of the school environment.

Getting to the bottom of what is upsetting your child is key. Once that is sorted, you can look at how to overcome the problem and soon, not wanting to go to school will be a thing of the past.

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