Tips for Kids Who REALLY Don't Want to Go to School

Kind words and practical advice for parents whose kids would rather do anything than go to school in the morning.

school bus

 A PSP member asks...

"My 3.5 year old daughter has recently started really not wanting to go to school. It seems like some sort of social slight occurred at school. Her teachers told us that she started crying in school and wouldn't tell them why. Eventually I managed to get out of her that the 2 girls she was sitting with had been mean to her, although what that entailed wasn't clear...Since then she has started really resisting going to school. We went and talked to the teachers and they moved her to a different table and have been keeping an eye on her and say that she is participating and seems to be fine once we drop her off. However, getting her out the door every morning is a BATTLE filled with lots of tears and lot's of 'please don't make me go to school, please stay with me mama, please don't work mama'. It seems like she mainly just wants more time with me and her dad because this morning she told me that people were mean to her at her school and any other school she might go to (because I offered that maybe she needed to go to a different school). Our pediatrician advised waiting a week or 2 and keeping track of whether she's participating in school. ... I'm not sure if I'm necessarily looking for advice, or just 'yes that happened to us and our child isn't permanently scarred'. But if you have any thoughts I'd love to hear them."

Members offer their thoughts...

"I’m so sorry. My second child hated going to school when she was 3 and 4. I used to say 'mommie goes to work, daddy goes to work, [older brother] goes to school, and [you go] to school, we all Have things to do each day... all the parents go to work while all the kids go to school.' I would also say lots of fantasy stuff because I read somewhere kids have dreams/fantasy and it’s Ok to indulge. 'In a parallel universe, you and me would always be together''I’m going to pack you in my work purse and take you to work with me.'"

"The book the kissing hand has been a life saver this year. Also she had a family picture at her desk she could go back and look at if she missed us."

"But man... the first couple of years of school were emotionally draining and brutal for me. I almost took her out like a million times. I would cry some days after drop off. Now she’s in the first grade, and goes pretty easily most days, but can still get weepy at drop off now and then. It’s just her personality, and that is OK. She is not in any way traumatized."

"I’m an elementary teacher and have a six year old and I have seen this on both sides. My six year old who has been in a daycare or preschool setting since she was one still says she doesn’t want to go. I know once she’s there she has fun and enjoys learning but it’s a battle. On the teacher side I’ve had many students across the years have trouble getting to school and once there, and into our routines you’d never know they protested it so much. I think about it like me going to work out. It takes so much effort and I don’t always want to go but once I get there I love going. Haha!"

"This happened to us last year at 3 years. I have no idea if anything happened but in the morning we’d go into his room and he’d ask if it was a school day and when we said yes he’d cry hysterically. Every. Single. Morning. It did NOT last forever, but I can’t remember exactly how long it did last. Not a few days, maybe a month? What actually worked for us, now looking back, is hysterical. I made a chart “did I wake up happy today?” And he got a sticker if he did. At the end of the week, If he had 4/5 or 5/5 smiley stickers he got a bigger reward. Ice cream with mom, date with dad, or even a toy. Whatever worked. The reason it was hilarious is bc he started acting. We’d walk in, he’d ask about school, we’d say yes, and with tears in his eyes he’d say “yay! I’m happy!” Clearly not. But after a few days, he tricked himself into actually being happy. And that was the end of that. Some days he wasn’t successful and we’d always remind him “it’s ok, you can try again tomorrow!” And then basically ignore. Try not to make it a bigger deal, then it becomes a bigger deal to them. I don’t know if something actually happened at school, or what, but behavior charts when done correctly actually WORK. (I’m a behavior therapist and work with 3-5 year olds :) )"

"Hi. I am so sorry to hear that and I feel your heart. Every time kid cries or scream, you hurt. But she/he has to go to school otherwise you and your husband cannot go to work. Same thing happened to my daughter around this age when I think back. Since you have already talked to your teacher and directors, you should wait and see few more days. Or suggest to change her class if there is more than 1 class. Changing school is a hustle and time consuming so let's that as a last resort. Maybe talk to other parents and let them ask their kids how your child is doing at school. There are many exaggeration and false information may come up but still you may hear something new."

"I promise that it is going to be fine!! My son has had so many ups and downs from preschool to kindergarten (eg this one boy he looked up to when he was 4 pushed him and called him stupid, and he was devastated that week), but while he loves school now he still would prefer to hang out with us all day."

"We make lists of all the stuff we want to do together on the weekend (or the mornings/nights if they are short). I'm also like, listen baby I have to go to work so we have money to eat, buy toys, live in this apt, and you have to learn so you can become an astronaut. It's non negotiable, life costs money. (Perhaps this is weird, but it worked for him one day). I wouldn't switch schools unless you dislike it for other reasons, the slights will happen anywhere. We just role play through it. (Eg with the boy that called him stupid I was like, wait that doesn't sound right at all. Is it true? Of course not, next time talk to a teacher who can help you find another friend to play with. He must be having a tough day). I also will have getting dressed contests where he can earn like a quarter or tablet time later or lots of compliments about being the greatest if he wins. (He always wins). You've got this!!"

"Hope this might be of some help: https://www.handinhandparenting.org/article/when-your-child-wont-go-anywhere-without-you-replay/"

"One thing that helped us was creating a space in the morning routine for 10 minutes of pure 'mama time' (my husband is away A LOT so didn't make sense to institute Dad time as well, but if you have that ability in the morning, it's even better if both parents can make the time separately - 10 min with one and 10 min with the other).  The 10 minutes is WHATEVER she wants to do with you with your UNDIVIDED attention (no looking at your phone!) - even if it's a game you hate.  Explain the concept and give it a special name so she understands this is special time.  I also give reminders when it's about to come to an end so my daughter doesn't get upset when it's over.  We repeat the mama time as part of our evening routine as well, after dinner and before bedtime stuff starts.  After a week or two, this should start to improve her behavior.  My daughter now feels secure that she will have 10 min a day, twice a day, where she has my full attention, and this is generally helpful for behavior overall (though by no means a cure all).  Even when we are running late, I try really hard not to skimp on the time because I find that 10 minutes of undivided attention can save your 20 minutes of yelling, wheedling, negotiating your way out the door.  If I do have to skip it, I promise to make up for it later."

"Also make the rest of the morning routine very regimented and plant little 'bribes' along the way - "when you put on your shoes, you can have your gummy vitamin!" etc  until you are out the door before they know it."

"So sorry to hear you are going through this! No advice here, but yes, we went through a similar phase as well, it did pass! Our kid was 2.75-3 when this was going on (he's 3.5 now), so developmental stages might be somewhat different. But he would kick and scream in the morning that he didn't want to go to school, struggle when I tried to dress him, take his clothes back off and I literally had to drag him up the slope some days. It was awful. Similar to what you're experiencing, the teachers would say he was fine during the day. He did get bit a his old school a lot and I feel like he didn't get along too well with all the kids. We moved him to a different school after the summer and the difference is night and day. He's actually happy to go to school now! It is hard for me to say whether it's just because he's older now (I generally was not a fan of the 2s), or that his new school is just a better fit. My sense is that it's a combination of both, which makes me feel a little bad for keeping in his old school for as long as we did if he may not have been totally happy there. So, if there is any advise in here it's follow your gut. But, most importantly, it will pass!"

"Our twins went through this at Beansprouts, which they started just before they turned three. As far as we know nothing in particular precipitated it, and the teachers said they were fine as soon as I walked out the door. For one of them it lasted for months, into the spring; for the other, it lasted into the next year, about to Halloween. It was horrible—and in stereo! My guess is this isn’t unusual—little kids don’t like to be separated from their parents—but no, they weren’t permanently scarred. (Though I may be.) Good luck."

"No advice, just solidarity! My now 5 year old son went through multiple phases of this kind of protest, starting when he was 3. It got better once he was 4, and happens only infrequently now. He didn’t report perceived slights or meanness, but there would be phases of 1-2 weeks of screaming, crying protests when it was time to leave in the morning. He was never excited to go to school even in the best of times, but after a couple of weeks of protest he would start going along with our prompts again instead of actively fighting them. We never found a cure, but sticking with a very fixed morning schedule of the same activities in the same order helped get us through. There is tremendous momentum in the routine. We also read The Kissing Hand, which was recommended by his school. I think you are right that it is mostly a separation anxiety phase that she will work through. FWIW, my 2 year old son is totally different - no protests, loves to go to school. So I think it’s mostly a personality thing."

"Can you do some special things after school that she can look forward to?  Hot chocolate at a fun place?  Maybe go to the bookstore after school and pick out special books?  (She’s almost ready for Boris and Amos – great book about friendship!).  we used to take 'random walks' when our kids would get to decide where we would walk after dinner (a block this way, a block that way) – maybe to look at the Holiday Lights?  Have you visited the 5th Ave (at 4th Street) Christmas tree?"

"I can tell you this. It will pass. It will pass in no time. Just hang in there and keep smiling."

And the original poster reports back on the resolution...

"Most people said that something similar had happened to their child and that they eventually got over it. I did hear from one person who later switched their kids school and reported that they were happier and from one person who reported that their child was scared to tell them that their school was making them sit by themselves during nap time (which they weren't supposed to do).

This is what we did:

  • Talked to the school- they moved our daughter to another table and talked to all of the kids about the importance of being kind
  • Told our daughter that no matter what she had to go to school. This resulted in some really heartbreaking mornings where we had to strap a sobbing kid into the stroller to get her to school
  • Repeatedly told our daughter that she could tell us anything, that we wouldn't be mad
  • Tried our best to pick our daughter up early from school (4-4:30 most days)
  • Started a sticker reward chart for morning and evening routines, including leaving without making a fuss
  • Talked to our pediatrician who said that this was most likely normal behavior. She advised to have the school monitor how much she was participating at school (vs concentrating on the strength of the tantrum). School reported that our daughter was participating in most activities, which made us feel better
  • Talked preliminarily to 3 child therapists although we decided to wait on actually making an appointment. 1 advised that this sounded like normal behavior and suggested we wait a month to see if the behavior continued. The other 2 agreed that this was most likely normal behavior.

After about a week our daughter stopped protesting school so much and after a couple of weeks she actually started telling me not to pick her up early. So, for now we've decided to leave her where she is. Hope this help anyone else dealing with this issue!"