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What to do if Your Child Doesn’t Want to go to School

By Michelle Hirschy, director of wellness
The director of wellness shares tips and guidance for parents and guardians to help manage students’ worries and concerns.
The start of the school year is such a joyous time for many children and families. Some students are excited to meet their new teachers and see their friends after the long summer months. It is also common for some students to experience back-to-school nervousness and worries. For many, that will subside in the weeks to come once they get used to new routines and classrooms. However, for a growing number of students (particularly in our “post-pandemic” return to normalcy), those worries and concerns about coming to school do not end. When that is the case, it can cause enormous upheaval for the family as they grapple with how to manage these feelings.

Here are some tips and considerations if your child doesn’t want to go to school:

1. Take their worries and concerns seriously. This conversation will look different based on the age of the child. Whether they are in kindergarten or Upper School, they are likely able to express some of the reasons behind their feelings. The important thing here is to listen deeply and allow them the chance to express themselves fully. Ask open-ended questions and give them space and time to share, without jumping to offer judgment or even a solution until you understand where they are coming from.

Say something like: I see that you are worried—can you tell me more about what has you feeling that way? 

2. Take a loving but firm approach.
You can validate your child’s feelings without validating their behavior or approach to coping with the feelings. It’s in the space between your child’s feelings and their actions where they need your guidance most. Our role is not to change how they feel but to help them manage those feelings and to model healthy coping strategies by facing the issues. Avoiding the triggers of anxiety will actually increase anxiety in the long term, so it is important to teach your child to manage how they are feeling in a way that does not involve avoidance.

Say something like: I have noticed you appear upset and worried in the morning. We all feel that way sometimes. I know it is uncomfortable, but going to school is very important, and you need to attend. What can I do to help you get there today?

3. Reach out for support. Consistent messages between caregivers and the school are crucial to supporting a child in this situation. LJCDS has a number of individuals that can help children and families if school avoidance is a concern. Start by reaching out to your child’s teacher(s) or advisor, a counselor from the Wellness Team or a division leader. Whether we can help develop a plan for drop-offs or help problem-solve challenging social dynamics, don’t hesitate to ask for support when you need it.

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