School is one of the main areas that contribute to our development and learning. However, going to school is something that some children experience with enthusiasm and joy, while others find it tedious or distressing.

In fact, we can sometimes find children who for some reason refuse to come to the centre and are strongly opposed to this idea. And this can be worrying, especially if the child in question is our child.

That’s why a lot of fathers and mothers think… ” what to do if my child does not want to go to school? ” Let’s discuss some ideas about this throughout this article.

What do I do when my child doesn’t want to go to school?

“I don’t want to go to school.” This is probably something that many parents have heard on more than one occasion regardless of the age of their offspring. But beyond the mere lack of desire to go to school and follow the classes and the normal functioning of the centre, this phrase can hide a great number of reasons.

All of them are important and it is not superfluous to value what can lead our child to say that, and to put some kind of solution to it .

In this sense, it is necessary first to find out why and then to be able to act accordingly, and then to start taking effective measures.

1. Evaluate why

Although there is a great variability in what it means at a cognitive and emotional level for children to go to school, the truth is that an insistent refusal to go to school should first make us reflect on why .

In many cases it will be due to lack of desire, preferring to have fun at home or playing, for fear of separating from parents, living it as an obligation or for lack of interest and motivation, but we can also be faced with a school phobia, resistance due to feelings of disability, the experience of stressful situations such as parental divorce, birth or death or suffering from bullying. It is even possible that you are physically ill or are suffering from an illness (although be aware of possible pretensions).

Analysing the causes that lead to the child refusing to go to school may allow establishing an adequate strategy to motivate him/her to do so or to provide solutions to possible problems he/she may be having. Among the different aspects that need to be taken into account for this purpose, some of the main ones may be the following.

2. Maintain fluid communication with your child

One of the main bases of any positive relationship is communication.

In parent-child relationships this is especially important, so that the child can express his or her feelings, fears and thoughts with confidence and without fear of telling what might be happening to him or her.

3. Take into account their motivations and difficulties

Sometimes the lack of desire to go to school is caused by a lack of motivation to do so, or by problems in following classes or understanding certain aspects of them.

This is why taking into account your child’s interests and understanding what motivates him or her can be useful in optimising his or her skills and favouring his or her development and willingness to learn .

Detecting possible difficulties is also a first step in establishing some kind of guideline or help that we can provide, such as helping you with your homework, explaining some concepts that you don’t understand or even using private teachers.

4. Check for noticeable differences in their attitude before and after school

Sometimes changes in behavior and moods between before and after school may indicate that something may have happened to him, even more so if he refuses to go to school.

In this sense, it may be useful to discuss it with him or her in an assertive and non-invasive way , so that the child can express himself or herself freely.

5. Have there been any recent changes in the household or the child’s situation?

Another element to take into account when trying to assess why our child does not want to go to school is the fact that there may have been some important change or phenomenon that represents a considerable change for our child.

For example, the death of a close family member can create fear of losing another loved one or of dying, which can make some children unwilling to be separated from their families or to leave home for a long time.

The same goes for divorces and a possible feeling of pain or even the belief that the separation is your fault , or the birth of a brother or sister whether it is out of jealousy or because you want to protect them.

6. Talk about it with the center and teachers

Another element that may be important is to maintain a fluid communication with the center, so that if something happens, this information can be shared.

This is helpful both in informing yourself as the child’s parent and in reporting issues that school professionals may have missed. Also allows you to generate strategies to solve possible problems such as bullying or the presence of stressful experiences.

It is also important to take into account aspects such as the child’s notes or agenda, which can give us clues about the presence of difficulties in one or more areas or problems in class either with students, teachers or subjects.

7. Friends and other parents: other sources of information

Another possible source of information that we can turn to if the reason our child does not want to go to school is that something has happened to him or simply to get another point of view may be to go to friends and other parents.

It’s not a question of asking them about our child , but they can often tell if something has happened in class that might be interesting. However, we must bear in mind that we should first talk to our child, not just go to others.

How to react positively

So far we have visualized some elements or aspects to take into account when assessing what may be happening to our child. But knowing that it is happening just like that is not going to help us much as, in the end, we have to give some kind of response to this situation.

In this regard, some guidelines that may be useful are the following.

1. Take an interest in the situation

While it may seem simple and is often overlooked at a conscious level, showing an obvious interest in what a child does and refuses to do at school can be very rewarding. The fact that we approach their concerns is a sign of concern and support for them.

It is important to make this approach in a positive way, without overwhelming, violating or invading their intimacy but by making them see that they care.

2. Positive attitude towards school

Going to school is an activity that can be experienced in many ways, but it involves doing tasks that we sometimes don’t like.

In this sense, it is essential to act as a model for the child , showing a positive attitude towards school and academics.

Parents who show rejection or distaste for studying, who indicate that studying is a waste of time, or who ridicule those who do will make it more likely that the school will be seen negatively by their children.

3. Support them in their tasks

Homework assignments at school can sometimes be complicated, and some subjects can be a source of distress and discomfort for students if they are not able to understand them. In this sense it may be appropriate to support them and help them with their homework , which also shows interest in him or her as a person and allows us to share time with our loved one.

But we are talking about helping, not about doing their homework or taking away their responsibilities.

4. Promotes their self-esteem and sense of self-efficacy

Whatever the reason our child does not want to go to school, trusting them and building their self-esteem and thinking they are capable of doing so is very helpful. In this sense, we must show interest and support, make him see and reinforce his achievements unconditionally and maximize his potential.

The demands of the environment will make the child feel that everything he or she does could be better and is never enough . Destructive criticism, devaluation and comparisons with others should be avoided.

On the other hand, overprotection is also negative, since the child himself may look useless and feel that without outside help he is not able to achieve anything. It is about the child seeing himself as a valid person while feeling that in case of need he can turn to the help of others.

5. No rewards or punishments

It is important to keep in mind that punishing the lack of desire to go to school can be counterproductive and can transform the school itself into something aversive. Thus, we do not have to punish them for saying or feeling that they do not want to go .

Similarly, the opposite should not be rewarded, since in that case going to school or showing a desire to do so would become a means of obtaining rewards.

What we must try to do is to make going to school a natural act that we may or may not want to do, but it must be done.

6. Contact the centre

Depending on the reason for the refusal, it may be necessary to go to the school and talk to those responsible for the problem that causes it and to the teachers . We are talking about cases such as school bullying, or to agree on joint strategies to solve other problems.

7. Successive approximation

Especially when we are dealing with very young children, after a holiday period or when a traumatic situation has occurred for the child, it may be appropriate to introduce the child to the centre gradually and progressively.

In other words, it may be convenient that they first spend a shorter period of time at school so that they get used to it and reduce the level of anxiety that being at school generates.

8. Sleep hygiene

A last recommendation that can help to facilitate a better disposition to go to school is found in solving one of the possible causes of resistance to go to school: bad sleep .

In this sense, it is advisable to make sure that the child has enough time to rest and sleep during the night, following a stable schedule (it is not necessary to go to sleep always at the exact same time, but it is necessary that he/she should always or regularly go to sleep in a specific band).

And not only the schedule, it is also important that the place where the child sleeps meets stable and sleep-friendly conditions: light, temperature, space or stimuli that can clear the child (e.g. screens) must be controlled.

It is also advisable that the bed is reserved for sleeping and that it does not become usual for it to be a place for other activities, as otherwise the child could associate the bed with stimuli that activate it and it would be more difficult to fall asleep.

9. Use professional help

It is worth mentioning that depending on the case, its origin and whether or not means are found to solve it, it may be necessary and advisable to turn to professionals, either from the centre itself (if they have them) or externally. Among these professionals we can find advisors, psychologists, speech therapists, physiotherapists or even lawyers in some serious cases.

Bibliographic references:

  • Butler, C. (2008). Talk and social interaction in the playground. Aldershot: Ashgate.
  • Ginsburg, K. R. (2007) “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds” (PDF). American Academy of Pediatrics. 119(1).