Help! My child doesn’t want to go to school

05 February 2015

There are few things more difficult for a mother to deal with than her child – whether toddler or teen – not wanting to go to school. She immediately thinks: are they being bullied? Is there something she doesn’t know about? Or are they just trying their luck?

CP de Jager, an educational and counselling psychologist of Vanderbijlpark, says each child should be judged on their own merit. “Younger kids often experience separation anxiety, while older kids might have trouble with a bully or struggle with their studies – things the parent might not know about. It’s very important that parents talk to their children about this, show sympathy and never force them to go school.”

He says creating a positive atmosphere or attitude towards school might help with younger kids. “Be cheerful when you drop them off in the morning and walk with them to class. It’s a good idea to involve the teacher. That way you’ll be made aware if there are learning problems such as spelling or reading difficulties.” The teacher might also offer advice for dealing with the situation. The teacher will also become less of a stranger when the child can see they have a good relationship with the parent.

With both older and younger kids it’s important that the parents ask about their day in a relaxed way. That way you’ll hear about the little things that happened and which might bother the child. Ask in a positive way so you’ll hear about the good things, because to talk about school in a positive way will also help the child to find perspective.

Finally, parents must be firm, De Jager says. “Look for the cause of the problem, but be firm – don’t let the child manipulate you.”

Experts say there are four ways in which you can overcome your fear. They might also work for kids who fear school.

1 Be aware of the fear. Many kids who fear something like school can’t say exactly what it is that scares them – all they know is that the idea of going to school terrifies them. So step one is to isolate the thing they fear. Could it for instance be a bad relationship with a teacher? Or a subject they’re struggling with? Or the fear of being separated from mom?

2 Develop ways to comfort yourself. The second step, which can be done with the help of a therapist or psychologist if necessary, is to develop ways to calm yourself. For a toddler this might be something as simple as taking their favourite blanket or doll with when they go to school alone. For a teen it might be a breathing technique.

3 Develop a hierarchy of feared situations or things. Once the child knows what they fear they can make a list of the things associated with it. For a primary school learner for instance this might be: their friends, the teacher, the school uniform and having to go to school alone. Putting on their school uniform might be the least scary, friends a bit more scary, the teacher even more so, and having to go to school alone the scariest.

4 Confront each item on the list separately. For instance, start with putting on their school uniform. Then mom can invite some of the friends to come and play. After that the child can meet the teacher, and only then do they have to confront the thing they fear the most: going to school by themselves. When the time comes to go to school it will be easier because some of the fears associated with it have been overcome.

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