How to handle refusal to go to school?

Julia - posted on 01/05/2012 ( 26 moms have responded )

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My 6 year old is refusing to go to school. EVERY morning she cries and screams for me as soon as we get to the school. She is fine before that and when I ask her at the end of the day how school went, she says great! I'm confused and frustrated. I don't know why she is doing this and I feel helpless to help her!

She says she likes her teacher. She doesn't have any problems in school. She doesn't want to move to another class so she likes her classmates. She gets good grades and even made Honor Roll!!!

We recently sold our house and are temporarily living with relatives, but they live one block away and she LOVES them and never wanted to leave their house before when we went to visit!

I'm at a loss here and was wondering if anyone else went through this and could share some tips or advice.

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Tracy - posted on 01/08/2012

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Hi Erin,
The most helpful advice the psychologist gave us was to be patient with him. We were getting very frustrated, and concerned, but with her help, things really have improved! The more we pushed him or tried to convince him that he would be okay, "there's nothing to be afraid of" or the like, the more he was resistant to doing things. While the psychologist met with him also - teaching him deep breathing exercises, ways to identify his own anxiety and put words to those feelings and the use of imagery - she was probably more helpful to us. She taught us that until about the age of 8 or 9, kids have a difficult time to filter through what is "reasonable" or rational vs. irrational. Therefore, we had to cut him some slack in that regard. We used a lot of empathy - "I understand that you are feeling nervous, etc." We also did a lot of talking about events before they happened, how to prepare, how he could deal with the anxiety as it would increase and how we'd be supporting him along the way. In the past, my H and I might have avoided such conversations as we were afraid of "spiking" that anxiety. We learned it's going to happen whether we said anything or not so we might as well broach the subject with him ahead of time. That seemed to help. When we finally decided to put him in basketball - a game we knew he was skillful at and enjoyed - I was really nervous. Pysch advised us to set our expectations LOW. She told us that if he started to balk at going, didn't want to participate or whatever, we were to let him sit on the bench, tell him that's all he had to do, but that he was part of the team and he had to at least stay and watch. Don't give in to the crying and fit throwing and don't try to convince him he should get out and try it. We had to do that for about 2-3 weeks but EVENTUALLY he got out there. We also did not make a big deal out of that, but rather congratulated and encouraged him like anyone else. He pulled the same behavior again in the first game but the last few minutes he went in. I swear - from that point on, it was as if he'd cleared a HUGE personal hurdle and the self-confidence began to grow and he relaxes, was successful and had fun. I can tell you, until that time, I could not even drop him off at a party or friend's house - even if his older brother was with him. After that basketball season last year, though, he's gone on to play baseball, football, swim lessons - and now wants to take skating lessons to play hockey. He doesn't even need a friend to be on the team! It is so freeing and if he can make the change, anyone can! I know this is a long post but I know the stress you're under trying so hard to help your son. I cried many times. I hope some of this helps. If you have any other questions, please let me know! I'd hate for your little guy to continue struggling in this way, too. Lastly - seek the help of a professional - a school counselor, social worker, psychologist. That's what they're there for! Good luck!

Tracy - posted on 01/08/2012

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I feel for you, Julia. Our now 7-year-old did the same thing at the start of K and 1st grade. It only lasted a few weeks, thankfully, but it took a team effort between me, his teacher, the principal and school social worker. As for your daughter, if you've reasonably ruled out any other major issue, I'd say your daughter is experiencing some strong separation anxiety. Whatever the reason - it is hard to understand and rationalize, as her parent. However, that IS the definition of anxiety - an irrational belief, feeling, behavior. Our son showed signs of anxiety in other ways, too - I couldn't drop him off at a friend's house w./out issue, a birthday party or other situation. So no real surprise when it occurred with school, too. Same thing - he'd say he liked his teacher, was making friends and upon pick up, he always says he had a good day. A few things that helped us - the social worker gave him a "trinket" a small animal figurine of his choice that he could keep in his pocket during the day. It was a source of security for him. I also gave him a small, laminated picture of myself for him to keep in his pocket. As things improved, we now only have one taped to the inside of his lunch box. His teacher also arranged for him to have a "lunch buddy" because those unstructured times sometimes increased his anxiety. All of these seemed to help and within a month or so, he had no problems with going to school or separating from me. We also found him some opportunities to try his skills and interests in activities outside of school. He chose basketball. Didn't want to leave our sides at the first practice or the first game but with the help of the social worker, she guided us through the process with him. Be patient, be empathic but ALWAYS hold him/her accountable. School is a must - you don't have a choice. His confidence grew and he's now ready to go and try everything new. Hang in there! I wish you the best with yoru daughter. It WILL get better.

Wendy - posted on 01/07/2012

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We went through the exact same thing when my son was five (in kindergarten). He did great while he was there, had friends, liked his teacher, but would throw a huge fit when we dropped him off. We tried various things, without ever finding the perfect solution. Eventually he seemed to outgrow it (in early winter). Some of the things that seemed to help were, 1) asking him to help come up with solutions. (When he was part of making the plan, he had more buy-in.) 2) Having something he really loved to do (for him, drawing with special art materials) before the bell rang, so he could look forward to that when he first walked in the door. 3) every day that he had a "good transition" he could choose a special activity to do when he got home from school. (Good transition just meant going into the classroom quietly without being forced. He could cry quietly, if he needed to.) 4) We discussed with him why school was important and that it's the law that kids need to go, and that we would bring him to the door, hug him, and leave, whether he was screaming or not. The teacher would help guide him to his desk after we left, and he was always fine within a minute or two, she said. We didn't engage in conversation at the door - all the conversation and problem solving occurred at other times of day, so that the drop off was quick. And we made sure that we periodically checked to make sure there were no problems at school, and to address any real concerns, and took the time to understand and empathize with whatever negative feelings about school did occur. Hope some of that helps! I remember that feeling of helplessness and how awful it felt to drop him off each day. Just know that she most likely won't still be doing this when she's older. Good luck!

Tanya - posted on 01/05/2012

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My daughter did this for about 2 wks when she was around 4. I would just explain to her that this was her time to have fun and be with her friends and that I would always be here to get her when she got off. The teachers were a big help as well, when I would drop her off we made it a very quick goodbye, hug, kiss and see you at 3. They handled it from there. I tried very hard not to show her how upset it made me, I would cry on the way home. Eventually she got over it. But it lasted about 2 wks. Good luck :)

Laura - posted on 09/17/2012

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I had a bad experience today also, my six year old son cried and screamed for me when I left him at school . It was heart wrenching to see him go through that. I called the school to see how he was doing and he was fine. After lunch I received a call from the school and an email from his teacher telling what a great day he had. He loves school usually and isn't having and problems. I am overwhelmed with stress and feel helpless. After school he came home happy like nothing happened. As I put him to bed a bit ago he told me he didn't want to go to school. He said his stomach may hurt worse in the morning than it did today. My husband feels he has been babied all his life, me I disagree. I am sick to think about what is in store tomorrow, feeling so very helpless, and hoping to get the strength to handle it.

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Diane - posted on 01/12/2012

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I know Libby needs tons more sleep, but even when we go to bed earlier, she will stay up in her bed with lights off and all and says, "Mom, my head just won't fall asleep" and she does need tons of sleep. I've talked to teachers, but maybe she is a bit bored, I will see what I can do!!

I go and help in both my girls' classes on Tuesdays to help out so I get a view of the kids and getting to know them.

Alexandra - posted on 01/10/2012

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Just be firm and reassure her that school is important in life. This is just a phase, like any other it will go away after a while.

Erin - posted on 01/08/2012

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A question for @Tracy Schwartz... would you be willing to share with me some of the things the social worker taught you to help with your sons confidence? We are struggling with the exact same things with our 7yr.old son. He is so self conscious, hates to leave my side, and is so lacking in confidence. I'm veryconcerned with how to deal with this and would love to hear what worked for you. Thanks!

Janet - posted on 01/08/2012

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my daughter was and is the same way - u've just got to ignore the behaviour and either drop her off at the office or drop her very close to the bell - when she realises she has to go to school no matter what she will calm down. It IS very hard to go thru and i sympathesize - ur actually lucky cause we've had to hold our daughter down to get her dressed and ready for school and that's not nice - apparently most kids go thru some form of separation anxiety in the prep-3 levels of school - it's normal they reckon. Alternatively have someone else drop her off or find out about other mums taking their kids to school and find a buddy, car pools also may work - good luck

Bonita - posted on 01/08/2012

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Just continue to take her to school, kiss her goodbye, and LEAVE!! don't try to comfort her--she has control of the situation and is really OK! the fact she is OK the rest of the day proves she is really altogether OK! she will get past this and you are not being a bad mom by helping her!! It will end in a couple weeks!! and she will still know you really do love her!! and will be there for her when she needs you!!

Brandi - posted on 01/08/2012

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My 6 year old did the same thing. Mornings were very traumatic. I had a conference with the teacher to find out how she was doing in school. We came to the realization that she was bored. She wasn't being challenged academically. The teacher started giving her work that was more to her level and things improved. That's not to say that every morning was all sunshine. Everyone has a bad day, but there was a definite improvement.

Kyleigh - posted on 01/07/2012

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Is she getting enough sleep? I found out my 5 yr old DD was acting like this the nights it took her longer to go to sleep, I guess it was those naps after a full day of kindergarden she would come home and be exhausted. But i kept her busy and occupied she was so tired by 7pm though. GL

Misty - posted on 01/07/2012

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Were you a stay at home mom with her. I worked when my oldest son was born so he was with a babysitter from the time he was 6weeks old and he never cried for me at school, but my youngest son was born with some health problems and I had to quit my job and stay home with him and when it came time for him to start school he cried every day for me. If you are/were a stay at home mom talk with the teacher and see if you can come in and help with the class one or two days a week, that could help her knowing that mommy is going to come and help with her class.

Marcy - posted on 01/07/2012

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Since you said you just moved, could she be afraid that you might leave her school? She may be going through some feelings she doesn't know how to deal with about moving & leaving a house she was use to. I'd call the school couselor & tell them what's going on, & maybe have them talk to her, & see if that is why, or if there may be any other underlying problems you aren't aware of. Maybe try reassuring her before school, tell her you love her & can't wait to hear about her day when she get out of school. Hope things get better!

Melisa - posted on 01/07/2012

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my son used to do the same. It is really heart breaking. Mine got that bad that the principle approached me and had to intervene . So for about 2 to 3 wks the principle would meet us and take my son from me kicking and screaming to is class . But by the end me the 3 or so weeks their was no kicking and screaming. It is an attention thing and every now and then he would try it but i would just have to turn and walk towards the office and he would stop

Catherine - posted on 01/07/2012

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My friends son did this for nearly six months it got so bad she contemplated taking him out and restarting him the following year, she was told not to react to the behaviour just act normal and just say love you see you later after about a week of no reaction hejust walked and never looked back. It takes courage to ignore it but she is making u feel guilty and you are rewarding for it by giving attention. My youngest done it in daycare (he went to on mon through thurs afternoons and the other on a friday all day) he wasn't happy at the friday one and used to make himself sick with crying, I changed it so he went to the other one all day friday and now he leave me quite happy! Hope u have some sucess x

Maureen - posted on 01/07/2012

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shadow her at school one day with the school permission. There is a reason, but you are not seeing it. The relatives may have something to do with this. Too much of a good thing....kinda thing. They too much reinforce the importance of school and how proud of her they would be for going. I concur that an earlier bedtime maybe in order also. Talk to the teachers, and go to that school!!

Diane - posted on 01/06/2012

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My 2nd daughter does the exact same thing. Some of it is the change, missing home, sitting at a desk, wanting to be with mommy, and another is getting more sleep. My Libby has to start bedtime stuff around 630 so she will be asleep before 8pm. SLEEP IS HUGE..My girl needs extra sleep and still I have to start waking her up earlier and getting little perks, like you can have donuts on Friday if you don't miss the bus or pick favorite breakfast (pancakes was ourss) and start "GENTLY" waking her up earlier.oh, I visit once a week and that's more leverage for helping out in her classroom. I start talking about the next day before bed and use all my ammunition. I would hang around in her class for a bit too...then ease out.

Hannah - posted on 01/06/2012

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no matter wot dont give her a day off cschool unless is becase she is really ill. like all the other mums have said dont let her se how it is affecting u. praise her for being good about going to school. tell her how proud u r. even speak to her teacher and mention to them that she is really upset wen she is at home and on the way to school but u cant figure out y. maybe they will be able to keep u informed on how she goes. even ask them if u could speak to her teacher at the end of each week to be able to keep a progress repert. the teachers might even speak to her a quiet time of the day and ask her y she gets so upset about coming to school. even try doing that at home in the evening or whilst u are on ur way home. it will get easier. just keep up the good work.

Alanna - posted on 01/06/2012

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Am going through this with my 5 yr old. We let her stay home today because she had a sub, but stripped her of privileges while she was home. She also had to do some schoolwork. She's ready to go back to school on Monday! Good luck.

Wendy - posted on 01/06/2012

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My daughter did that from 2 yr old preschool through 4th grade (i finally gave in and we are homeschooling now) Good luck She wore me out she would cry and then I would go home and cry the teacher said she would cry for about 2 hours and then she was fine for the rest of the day. Most kids will quit as they get older at 6yrs old it is not hat uncommon. Your daughter will probably stop as she gets older souds lieshe has a litle seperation issue as did my daughter but she also has been diagnosed with Asperger's and anxiety disorder so a day of school with ll the sensory nd transitioning was hard for her..I hope it gets better for you and the rest of the school year goes better! I know it is harder on us moms than anyone else..

Elizabeth - posted on 01/06/2012

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Mine did this. I just grined and beared it till they stoped. That's all you can do. Just reasure her that you will see her at the end of her day, she will have fun, and this something she doesn't get a choice in. One of mine always wanted to go to work like mommy. So I told them they were. Going to school was there job. I fixed them a glass of milk in a coffee mug to drink while I drinked my coffee. They even got a travel mug just like mine. They got a big kick out of it. When it was cold outside I would put hot chocolate in it. When I droped them off I would tell them have a good day at work and do a good job. It worked with that one, two of mine I had to walk to breakfast and then they were fine. And another wanted to be more independent. She wanted to walk to class all by herself. So I'd drop her off where I was supposed to, park, and sign in and check to make sure she made it ok and leave without her ever knowing mommy followed her in. lol. My sister would volunteer to read once a week in her daughters class and that seemed to help. So just try some different things and hopefully you'll find something that works. Try to be very observent of her behavior in the morning and see if you can find her trigger. That might help you figure out what to do.

Kate CP - posted on 01/05/2012

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Just sounds like a clingy phase. She's going through a lot of change and it makes her nervous. What I told my daughter when she did this when she first started school is "No matter what happens, Mommy and Daddy ALWAYS come back. We will NEVER leave you." And we keep that promise. If she has something solid and concrete to hold onto, something that she knows won't change, that may make it easier for her.

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Just be firm (but kind and gentle) and consistent. Don't let her think that not going is an option and don't let her see that it upsets you. Some kids do this for a LONG time, some never (or rarely) do it, and some do it for a while before they settle in.

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