What To Do If Your Child Refuses To Go To School

My daughter is 9-years old and in the fourth grade, and she just doesnt want to go to school!

MOLLY: The reader added that her daughter cries and howls and doesn’t want to go at all. What should she do?

Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): I think we need to know a little bit more about what her history is about going to school. For instance, if she went to school happily for the last several years but all of a sudden she doesn’t want to go to school anymore, that would provoke different kinds of questions than if this is a child who every year refuses to go to school.

If this is a child who every year refuses to go to school, chances are she’s having separation anxiety from her mom rather than anything particular going on at school. And that has to be addressed because the first rule of thumb for dealing with separation anxiety is that you must get the kid into school every day. You absolutely can’t allow her to stay home.

However, if the child has had some kind of negative experience with the teacher or with classmates in the past, and that’s why she doesn’t want to go to school, that has to be explored in a different kind of way.

The mom may have to talk to the teacher about what went on, and she should consider that the child might need to talk about what happened as it was somehow traumatizing to her. There could be a number of issues to consider and they are each worth exploring because the etiology of what this is about is the most important clue. Once you know what causes this behavior, then you can go ahead and address it.

MOLLY: If the child just all of a sudden just doesn’t want to go to school, what would be the best way to start exploring what the cause could be?

MOM: Well, she’s 9 years old so she’s perfectly verbal. I would suggest sitting down with her in a very comfortable atmosphere for the child and talking about how things went last year at school. I would do that in any case because you have to really listen closely to what she’s saying. She might have a hard time telling her mom about something bad that had happened in school, especially if she feels any shame or humiliation from it.

MOLLY: So you have to first just talk about it. Should you ask directly? “Did something happen?”

MOM: Yes. Her mom could say, “I’m concerned about how you’ve been feeling about going to school this year. Let’s talk about how last year went. Did something happen at school that was upsetting? Did somebody give you a hard time? Was it a hard relationship with your teacher?”

If she can’t get much out of her child about it, she should try to talk to last year’s teacher. But always keep in mind that if this is a common problem for this child every year, you can’t ignore the separation anxiety issue with the mother.

MOLLY: How do you deal with that?

MOM: You talk to the kid about how the mom is there and mom will be there when she gets home from school and the girl can share her experiences with her mom when she comes home from school. I had a case in my office where we had the child, who was actually in high school, and the mother was working full time. We arranged for the child to call the mother every day at work at 4:00 pm when she came home from school to check in. This little routine provided enough reassurance for the child to feel ok about the daily separation for work and school.

MOLLY: What might be the long term effects?

MOM: There can be long-term effects of not dealing with childhood separation anxiety for sure. Children who continue to have separation anxiety past ages 5 or 6 miss out on socialization experiences and can grow into clingy teens that dominate the family with their needs. They may have a hard time adjusting to activities away from their parents, including schooling, and may never want to leave their parents’ house and become independent.

If the problem was bullying or another external factor, then it is incumbent upon the parent to work to rectify the situation and advocate for your child. At 9, she has years ahead of her in school.

The first job is to figure out what is behind her behavior. Then you can go from there.

Experience this? Comment below if you’ve had success dealing with a child that doesn’t want to go to school. Or Contact Us if you have other parenting questions you’d like to see addressed.

ding 10 comments on “What To Do If Your Child Refuses To Go To School

  1. My grandson has always had a problem going to school. It is a screaming , hitting battle everyday, no matter what we do or questions we ask he just hates it. Last year we home schooled him and this year he begged to go back to school. Today is day 3 and he has been fighting my daughter for 2 hours about going. When he gets home it is a fight because he is so upset, still, from the battle. He is on meds for his anger issues and he is just a mess. WHAT CAN WE DO?

    • Carol – This sounds like a very intense situation with this child. I don’t have a sense of how old he is. I think he should be seen by a child therapist because of all this anger and difficulty adapting to learning situations – at school and at home. He – or she – could help you sort this through. This must be very hard for all of you.

  2. My bright normally happy 9 year old daughter has for the last several years begged us to home school her. She was loving school and very happy until a new rule in our town forced her into a new school. This school has a much less diverse cultural make up and many students and support staff who only speak in Spanish causing my daughter to feel frustrated in class when the teacher has to stop and start constantly to have the interpreter translate or another student translate. Also in her old school my daughter would help teachers constantly and loved going and would be upset if she had to stay home sick. Now she will even try to pretend illness to get out of school. What can I do? I have tried reassuring her the kids around will learn English and there will be fewer interuptions but to no avail. It has been so bad the school district is already threatening her with being retained a grade of her attendance doesn’t approve. I call the dr every illness and most times we take her to be sure but she still begs us not to send her and to please home school her so she doesn’t have to put up with the interuptions in class. She is very bright reads well above grade level and is doing very well in her classes. I need help I’d love to homeschool her but I need to know its what’s best for her. She has plenty of friends in the neighborhood.

  3. My husband and I are enduring a loosing battle it seems. We have his son’s every other week and it has been that way for 4 years now. The oldest, 12 year old, is wonderful and so helpful and caring when with us. That is not the case when he is with his mom. She claims he is mouthy and angry all the time.
    The youngest is 9 and since the very 1st week of school this year, he has cried almost every morning. He complains of stomach aches, head aches, sore throats, toy name it, he has it. The more you tell him to get up and ready for school, the more tears, screams, coughing induced dry heaving he does. It seems to have an every other day pattern. Both boys are now on there 3rd “session” with there councilor at a local and highly recommended office. There previous 2 visits lasted 6 months over a span of 2 years. The youngest is only getting worse. Most recently, he threw himself on the floor in the office at school saying he cannot breath and screaming for his life!!! Every time he gets told to leave school or that he stays home, he is fine within 5-15 mins. Our frustration has boiled over. We are welcoming the state to step in at this point because NOTHING HAS HELPED!!! The therapist offers no advice on how to get him to school, as well as no answer as to why he is like this ONLY with school! They tried medicine, he refuses to learn to swallow pills. So we got medication to grind up or open the capsules with (and of course this was all cleared with the dr) but he refuses to take it that way too!!! We need help!! And no one seems to be willing or able to help!!!!

    • And yes, we have asked about bullies, the school has been watching for bullies. There is none of that going on. School cannot see any problems with any of the students!! When you ask him why he does this, he responds with, “I am worried something is going to happen to my mom while I’m at school and I won’t find out because I am there.” Yet he is not concerned when he is told his mom and dad can go to jail due to his actions. He never worries while he was at 3 hour football practice, stays a day with friends, or any other time he is away from his mom, or dad, just school. Only school.

  4. My 6 year old son used to love to go to school. We moved and he had to switch schools. He was going to a public school at first now he is in a smaller charter school. He didn’t want to go to his new school at first but he never put up a fight not to go. He went and slowly his character started to change. He became quiet at home, lethargic, and depressed. I started to ask him questions like did anyone touch you? He would say no. He pushed me away. Then he eventually started telling me about a group of kids that are picking and hitting on him on a daily basis. He began saying he wanted to kill himself and asked me would a knife hurt him… I was speechless. Couldn’t do anything but hold my child and cry with him. I spoke with his teacher and his principal that next morning, they both took up for the students saying oh they’re going through a hard time at home. And etc… So my mother which of course is his grandmother started volunteering at his school. She noticed the bullying and reported it and once again nothing was done to the 3 students. They call him fat, ugly, and stupid. It has gottien to the point they even trip him or kick him. One day my son came home with a bloody lip and his teacher says he punched himself. My son never told me what happened. Recently I haven’t been sending him to school. He has missed over a week of school straight. And his personality has started to perk up. I work with him at home. I’m not sure what to do about sending him to school. Its a very small city and only 2 grade schools here. And it is too late into the school year to switch him to the other school. What should I do?

    • Sunshine,
      I feel for you your son and for you. Sounds like if you can home-school him for the next few months, you can then enroll him in a new school. I agree with you – keeping in his present school might be even more harmful to him.

  5. Adiela :my son is 9 refuse to go to school his grade4 i took him out of school and put him in another shool for 1 day so he wanted to go back to the same school he was at what should i do his been3 weeks at hme already the school his was at said they full 3 days later when i went back what should i do

    • Adiela – I don’t know enough information to really help you. The best I can suggest is that you meet with your son’s teachers to help you sort out this very difficult problem. The importance of him continuing school cannot be underestimated.

  6. Dear Dr Susan , I have a 5 year old boy, and has started Grade R this year, however, the past 5 years from the age of 6months he has been in a creche. he is a very happy and loving child…. the past few days, the teacher had to pull him from my arms while screaming and crying until his breath is out…” Mommy I just want to be with you and don’t want to go to school” he has all different excuses want to drive for a little while with me in my car, and then want to listen to some songs first before he goes to school… etc.
    This is breaking my heart… however, just about an hour afterwards, he smiles laughs and is happy … but keeps on asking when is mommy coming to get me …. I told him as well, that we can not be there for him, and tried to explain… I am working and daddy is working, he has an older brother 14 years… we all have to work daily and he has to go to school to get clever and also one day work? I don’t know what to do, it is a 15min period of me waiting for the teacher to come and explain, and try to comfort him… I love the teachers, and all there help. Please tell me if I maybe should see professional help or maybe see it through… it might change… he is also like that in aftercare? Thank you so much.

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