What to Do if Your Child Doesn't Want to Go to School

Is your child not wanting to go to school? What causes this kind of behavior? If you don't know what to do in this situation, read on and we'll give you some answers.
What to Do if Your Child Doesn't Want to Go to School
José Padilla

Written and verified by the psychologist José Padilla.

Last update: 20 September, 2022

Change is scary for all of us, especially children. If your child occasionally doesn’t want to go to school, it’s not really a problem. However, if it happens frequently, or every day, you need to know what’s going on.

There are many reasons why a child might prefer to stay home. Maybe they want a day off to recharge their batteries. You should also bear in mind that not wanting to go to school could be related to anxiety. In fact, studies indicate that intense school fears can affect up to 18 percent of children aged between three and 14 years old.

If you’re going through this type of situation at home, we’ll give you some guidelines to help.

Child clinging to his mother's legs with early maternal trauma
If your child was going to school perfectly happily yet suddenly no longer wants to go, it’s because something has happened.

Why doesn’t your child want to go to school?

There could be multiple reasons why your child doesn’t want to go to school. Furthermore, it’s often a complex problem that has its roots in different causes:

  • Fear of separation from parents.
  • Fear of various school-related events. Some examples might be being hit by a classmate, being teased, being criticized in class, speaking in front of the class, being sent to the principal, taking exams, undressing at sports time, or having a specific phobia.
  • Generalized anxiety or depression problems.

If your child has been going to school quite happily and suddenly doesn’t want to go, it’s a sign that something has happened. That said, if their refusal to go comes right after the holidays, it’s understandable that they don’t want to attend because they’re happy at home with their toys and without the responsibilities of doing homework.

Another reason that can lead to them not wanting to go to school is a change at home, in the family dynamics. For instance, a divorce, a lack of affection, or conflicts between parents can generate a feeling of insecurity in the child.

For example, if one of the parents always met them at the end of the day, but is no longer going to do so, it could motivate the child not to want to go so they don’t experience the emotional discomfort caused by their absence at the end of the school day.

Another cause could be a health problem that could be manifesting itself in their lack of desire to go to school. Finally, there’s bullying. UNESCO studies (2019) indicate that almost one in three (32 percent) of children around the world have been a victim of bullying on an occasional basis and one in 13 (7.3 percent) have been continuously bullied.

How to find out why your child doesn’t want to go to school

Here are some questions that can help you identify the reasons why your child doesn’t want to go to school.

  • Have they had any problems at school? Find out if your child has had any problems at school with their teachers or classmates.
  • At what point did they stop wanting to go to school? Think about when your child started not wanting to go to school. This will be of great help to you in investigating if something has happened to them.
  • Have there been changes in the family environment? Not wanting to go to school is really common in firstborns, especially when a new baby arrives on the scene. That’s because they realize they have to go to school while the baby stays home with their mother.
  • Is it only happening to them? Find out from other parents if their children also don’t want to go to school. If they have the same issue, it may be due to a conflict with a teacher or classmate.
  • Do they have any medical or psychological problems? Try to rule out that they have no medical or mental problems. Note if your child has recently presented any other symptoms and if so, consult your doctor or psychologist.

What can you do if your child doesn’t want to go to school?

If your child has this problem, don’t worry, we’ll tell you what to do.

1. Communicate with your child

Talk openly with your child to help them with any school problems they may be having. It’s crucial that they feel comfortable with you so that they can speak openly and calmly about what’s happening to them. When conversing, use a soft and calm tone of voice, even if you feel angry. Listen attentively and actively.

2. Observe their behavior

If you notice that your child is having trouble leaving the house and visiting other places, then the problem might not be with the school but with them. For instance, if they don’t want to go to school and cry if they have to stay at grandma’s house, then perhaps your child is insecure and fearful. Use some strategies to make increase their self-confidence.

3. Validate their emotions

When your child tells you that they don’t want to go to school, instead of getting angry and scolding them, validate what they say and what they feel. For example, say, “I know you’re feeling a little sad/angry and that’s okay, but when you get to class you’ll see that everything will be fine.”

Help them name their feelings, even if it’s hard for them. Try and work with your child on their emotional agility so that they have the necessary strategies to tell you what they feel.

3. Talk to their teachers

Contact your child’s teachers and ask them how they’re doing, if they’re getting along with their classmates, or if anything out of the ordinary has happened. They’ll be able to give you information to help you identify the reasons why your child doesn’t want to go to school. It’s important that you make sure that the school environment is suitable for your child’s learning, that it’s safe, and that it doesn’t trigger any negative emotions in them such as stress or anxiety.

4. Motivate them to learn

Maybe your child doesn’t want to go to school because they aren’t motivated to learn. If this is the case, do some learning activities with them that include the five ‘Cs’:

  • Context. This helps the child to connect learning with previous experiences and knowledge, in such a way that they can articulate them with the reality in which they’re living. It motivates the child because it allows them to understand the reality in which they develop.
  • Creativity. It stimulates the creative resolution of real and significant problems. This process is motivating because it shows the child the applicability of what they learn and the usefulness of going to school.
  • Curiosity. Arouse your child’s interest in what they’re learning. This is an excellent mobilizer for the search for knowledge and learning in children since interest drives them to seek answers.
  • Control. Give your child the opportunity to participate in what they’re learning and to choose how to do it. If you do this, you’ll help them develop their autonomy and reinforce their ability to manage their own learning processes.
  • Collaboration. To motivate your child to learn, you must create a space for cooperation, interaction, and exchange. Teamwork makes them feel accompanied and supported in the process.
Mother talking to her daughter in the kitchen
Motivating children to learn can increase their involvement and commitment at school.

5. Pay attention to their games and drawings

With games and drawings, children reflect the reality they’re living. Observe them when they’re playing with their toys, listen to their dialogues, and pay attention to the situation they’ve reproduced.

Allow them to express themselves freely through drawing and see if there’s anything that might tell you why they don’t want to go to school.

6. Ask for professional help

If the situation with your child continues and you can’t find any answers, you need to seek the help of a professional.

Finally, if your child doesn’t want to go to school, don’t let the situation go unnoticed. Request the intervention of the professionals who work at your child’s school. After all, they’re there to assist you and guarantee the healthy development of your little one.

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