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Believe it or not, a lot of kids experience school refusal
(or attempted school refusal, anyway). What this means is that they really, really don't want to go.
While school can be a lot of fun
(Friends! Recess! Messy art!), it can also be stressful. When parents
call me with concerns about a child who hates school, they're often convinced it's because of a teacher or another student. Surely something in the classroom is to blame, right?
Adults think of school as a place where kids are constantly
interacting with other kids and having fun while learning something. Sure,
that can be the case. But we tend to look at school through rose-colored
glasses. Adults face financial stress, work stress, relationship stress and any
number of other stressors. How bad can elementary school possibly be in comparison to a house that leaks in 10 new places
each time it rains?
What we need to keep in mind, though, is that kids experience kid-sized stress throughout
the day—that stress feels big and overwhelming to them.
Super-packed curriculum means many students are learning at an
accelerated pace. Some kids no longer have P.E., music, art—or even recess. Those
are obvious stressors for some kids. But there are other sneaky sources of
stress that can cause a child to declare, "I hate school," before hiding under a
bed and refusing to come out.
What do you do when your kid really wants to stay home? Remain calm and follow these steps:
1. Uncover the triggers
Kids dislike school for a variety of reasons and getting to
the heart of the matter is important. Don't assume that you know what the
problem is, however, as this can lead to "solutions" that don't actually work. Find
the source of the problem by talking to both your child and your child's
A few reasons that might crop up:
Bullying, lack of friends or difficulty keeping
up with friends
Along with a more rigorous curriculum, many kids are
overscheduled these days. They sit in school all day and then run from
sport to sport and eat on the go. They don't have enough time to decompress.
They don't have enough time to just hang out and be kids.
I always encourage parents to take a good look at the
schedule. Are your kids getting 11 to 12 hours of sleep each night? Do they have
time to eat their meals at the table without rushing? Do they have time for
unstructured playtime and downtime? If any of those "basics" (which are actually things kids need) are off, your kid will
experience higher levels of stress. Would you want to sit at a desk for six
hours and pay attention when you're exhausted? Probably not.
Resist the urge to try to fix or eliminate the problem. Simply listen to your child. Each day, ask your child for his
"best/worst." Ask him to tell you the best thing that happened at school followed by the worst. Empathize on both ends.
Childhood can be stressful and confusing. It's hard for kids
to feel alone in their dislike of school, but it does happen. Providing emotional
support at home and increasing 1:1 time to connect and talk about the good and
the bad helps ease the emotional tension for your child.
Many schools genuinely appreciate parent volunteers. Whether
you help out in the classroom or help organize projects at home while your
child sits and chats with you after school, taking an active role in the school
community helps your child feel safe and secure at the school.
Strengthen your relationship with your child's teacher by
seeking out opportunities to help and, whenever possible, attend school events
with your child to showcase the fun part of going to school.