What to do if your child does not want to go to school

Aug 09 2016.

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Weekday mornings with school going kids can be quite stressful for any parent. With lunchboxes to pack, breakfast to be eaten, clean uniforms to be sourced and traffic to be detoured, the last thing you need is a child not wanting to go to school. Without being perplexed and responding based on how you feel (which is frustrated and vexed), stop for a moment and analyse the situation. 

As, Malathi Kahandaliyanage, Consultant Education and Behaviour Therapist advices, any unusual behaviour displayed by your child is a way of communicating that he/she does not want to go to school. This is because there is something going on in your child's mind and he/she is trying to communicate that to you. Refusal to go to school happens when a child gets extremely upset at the idea of going to school. Children who refuse to go to school usually spend the day at home with their parents, which is what they want; to feel safe and to not be challenged to do new things. 

Obviously, our first reaction is to question the child. Many kids will display phantom feelings of being ill. Address those initially. Then you can start to encourage them; remind the child about a favourite class or activity happening today. 

Ms. Kahandaliyanage enlightens us on how we can positively address the problem in specific situations. Here’s what she had to say.


When you are talking to your child,

  • Acknowledge your child’s anxiety about going to school so that he/she feels heard and understood. For example, you could say, ‘It’s OK to feel worried about going to school.’
  • Let your child know that you understand it’s hard for him/her to go to school when he/she feels worried or frightened. For example, you could say, ‘I can see you’re worried about going to school. I know it’s hard, but you need to go. Your teacher and I will help.’
  • Show that you believe your child can go to school by saying positive and encouraging things; things like, ‘You’re showing how brave you are by going to school.’ This will build your child’s self-confidence. 
  • Use clear, calm statements to let your child know that you expect him/her to go to school. Say ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. For example, you can say, ‘When you’re at school tomorrow ...’ instead of ‘If you go to school tomorrow ...’
  • Use direct statements such as ‘It’s time to get out of bed and get ready for school'. 


When you are at home,

  • Stay calm. If your child sees or senses that you are worried, stressed or frustrated, it can make your child’s anxiety worse. And by staying calm, you model a positive way of handling the situation.
  • Plan for a calm start to the day. This might help your child feel more positive about going to school. You can do this by organising uniforms, lunches and school bags and talking about what fun your child is going to have at school. 
  • Make your home environment ‘boring’, if your child stays at home during school hours - no television, game stations or fun trips to park and so on. 


When getting to school,

  • Get someone else to drop your child at school. Children often cope better with separation at home rather than at the school gate.
  • Tell your child that you will be there to take him/ her home. 
  • Reward your child for going to school. This should happen the same day. 


Question you need to ask yourself,

  • How should you react if your child does not want to go to school?
  • Get angry?
  • Stay calm and follow a positive course of action?
  • Not talk to your child?
  • Take child to school without addressing issues?

Expert Advice provided by 


Written by Mayuri Jayasinghe, based on an interview with Malathi Kahandaliyanage - Consultation Education and Behaviour Therapist.


Mayuri Jayasinghe

Mayuri Jayasinghe plays many roles in her life but her most important and quite baffling role is that of being mother to her four children. She is the voice behind 'Parenting Life' for LIFE. A regular contributor to Women at Work and the Little Enquirer. Follow Mayuri on her Facebook page, The Parenting Club.



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