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

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Uncover the problem.

With young children, separation anxiety or some other trigger of anxiety is often to blame. We are conditioned to believe that separation anxiety is a toddler problem, but it actually comes back during various ages. The older children get, the more real their fears become. They might have real world fears, like mom getting into a car accident, and that think that staying home will solve those potential problems.

Possible triggers of school refusal:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Peer conflict
  • Bullying
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Academic struggles
  • Exhaustion

Talk with your child about school. Ask specific questions about what happens during the school day. Use a feelings faces chart to help your child identify and verbalize his feelings. Be sure to check in with the teacher to find out how your child appears at various points throughout the school day. Keeping a journal to track ups and downs and potential triggers can help you find the pattern and identify the source of the problem.

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Make a plan with the teacher.

Early childhood teachers want their students to succeed. These wonderful people go above and beyond to create warm and caring school environments. Lean on them to help you help your child.

Something as simple as showing up ten minutes early each day to be the “teacher’s helper” in the classroom can help an anxious child get through the door with less stress. Passing out papers and markers or setting up a craft empowers your child to play a larger role in the classroom.

If social issues are the problem, your child’s teacher will likely have some recommendations on potential buddies to begin building friendships or suggestions for empowering your child to handle conflict.

Build a coping kit.

Kids don’t enter this world with a bunch of coping skills to cope with the hard stuff; it’s up to us to teach them. Sometimes a little kit in the backpack with a few coping tools can help kids when school feels hard. Stress balls are great for all ages. A laminated card that says “breathe” with a reminder to count in for 3, hold for 3 and out for three helps kids utilize deep breathing in times of stress. A photograph of something peaceful (the beach, a favorite place) and a soft object to hold are all good coping tools for young children.

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I worked with one young boy who struggled when his worries kicked in. After some trial and error I found that a pencil with a fuzzy end gave him something soft to calm his worries when he felt stressed.

Empathize.

When we stop viewing behavioral concerns as willful and manipulative and start empathizing with our kids instead, we communicate to our kids that we understand that life can be hard and sometimes people need help to get through difficult times.

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Empathize with your child. Provide unconditional love and support. Be there now so that he won’t need you later.

Just be sure to make sure that you have the support you need, too. This, my fellow moms, is exhausting. It will zap your energy and cause you to question every move you make. But it will pass. And you and your child will both be just fine.

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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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