What to Do When Your Kid Won’t Go to School

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The first time my daughter had a croup attack she wasn’t even two years old. It was one of the scariest nights of my life. An ambulance whisked her to a nearby hospital, where she was given a steroid medication and a popsicle. They told us she would grow out of it by age 6.

Her latest croup attack was just a few nights ago, at nine-years-old. They’ve stopped making promises. We don’t know when she’ll grow out of it. We’ve made more late night ER trips than I care to list, some by ambulance and some by car. We have all the necessary medications at home, but sometimes medicine fails. Sometimes you need to see a doctor.

While the attacks didn’t seem to scare her too much in the early days, she recently developed separation anxiety. I am the one who rescues her when she can’t breathe. I am the one who knows exactly when to give her an inhaler for asthma. I am the one who is always there when she can’t catch her breath. And she doesn’t want to leave me. Even to go to school.

We are conditioned to believe that separation anxiety is a toddler problem, but it actually comes back during various ages.

Many kids love going to school. My son falls into that category. He fakes “well” when he’s actually quite sick because he can’t stand the thought of missing a game of soccer during recess. With my daughter, it ebbs and flows. When she’s feeling well and on a good run, she doesn’t think twice. But each time she returns from an illness, the separation anxiety kicks in again. The tears flow and the headaches emerge.

Here are a few things to know about kids who don’t want to go to school:

  • Their symptoms are real. They might not be “sick”, but you can stress or worry yourself into a headache, a stomachache, dizziness, chest pain, and various other complaints.
  • Anxiety is often to blame.
  • They’re not intentionally “misbehaving” or trying to manipulate you.
  • They often struggle to verbalize their feelings and triggers.
  • They don’t want to upset you.

How can you help your child get back to school when every single morning feels like a tornado of emotion? Start here:

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What to Do When Your Kid Won’t Go to School

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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