Going to school is an important part of a child’s growth mentally and physically. Learning from teachers and peers, playing with friends, and figuring out how to manage their feelings and behaviours around other kids and adults all help with brain development. School should be a place kids feel safe and enjoy going (at least for the most part, many kids don’t love being tested or getting a lot of homework!). However, for some children going to school can be very hard, and sometimes parents may have a difficult time getting their child to go to school.
There are many reasons that your child may not want to or may not feel able to go to school. Worries about school, worries about other kids, not understanding the school work, getting in trouble or being sick are all possible reasons. Sometimes it is more fun and less stress to stay at home, especially if it means a parent stays home too or the child can play on computer and video games instead of doing schoolwork. Children may refuse to go to school by becoming angry and upset, or they may tell you they feel sick in the morning with headache or stomachache (but they don’t have a fever). It is important to see if there is a pattern and to ask your child why they are having difficulty attending school (sometimes children do not know why, but it doesn’t hurt to ask). Some children have difficulty with change and so the beginning of the school year with a new teacher, or if there is a substitute teacher, can make it harder. With children who worry a lot about school, Sunday night and Monday morning can be the most difficult times, or after a long weekend or vacation. If there has been a significant event at school such as fight with a friend, getting in trouble with a teacher or being bullied, these incidents can all lead to difficulties going to school. Changing to a new school can also lead to some resistance to going to school, especially early on when your child does not know as many kids.
What should you do if your child is reluctant or resistant or reports being too sick to go to school? If your child reports being sick on school mornings, but no fever, and you think this is a pattern with not feeling like going to school, it is important to address this. Tell your child that you think their worries about school is causing this and that the only way for these feelings to go away is to go to school. Most of the time the sick feelings go away once they are in school. If you are not sure, explain that you will need to go to the doctor to check how they are doing if they feel they are too sick to go to school. If your child is angry and refuses to go to school and you do not feel you can make them go, then make staying home as much like school as possible. The school hours should be spent doing schoolwork and reading; there should be no television, computer, electronics or video games. Sometimes a reward chart with privileges earned by going to school can be an incentive for children who are really having trouble getting to school in the morning. It can also help sometimes to have support from another adult in the morning to help in getting your child to school.
Parents should continue to do everything they can to get their child to go to school, as once a child stops going to school it is much harder to get them back. If your child is refusing to go to school or having a lot of difficulty attending, talk with the school (principal, teacher or guidance counsellor). The school may have some good suggestions and observations, and they can also help supporting your child in school if they are having difficulty. If the school environment is not safe (child being bullied or threatened), then meet with the school immediately. Make a plan with the school so your child knows that the school will work to make things safe for them, and that they need to attend school. If you are not able to get your child to school despite trying these strategies, then consider asking for help in your community (family doctor, therapist or guidance counsellor) can assist in finding the right supports.