As a mother of three, I have had my fair share of at least one of my children not wanting to be dropped off at school. Every year, my youngest son decides he no longer wants to attend school. Despite the hysterics in the morning, I usually get told that he “had the best day ever!” when I pick him up. If your child is struggling with not wanting to go to school, make sure to listen and hear what they are stating their reasoning. If it is because they want to avoid going, the following tips may be helpful.
(Make sure there are no reasons why your child does not want to attend school that are more than just not wanting to.)
Let me give you an idea of what this looks like
When my youngest arrived at school last year, he started crying and telling me he was not going. Pulling up to the parent drop-off lane, I kissed my other two children goodbye and wished them the best day ever. After parking, I tried talking to my little boy in 1st grade. I yelled, begged, bribed, and tried anything I could think of. I physically picked him up as he grasped the seatbelt and car with Hulk’s strength as he screamed. While bringing him to the front of the school, he decided to lay on the ground face first, screaming. When I attempted to get him off the ground, he spider-monkeyed onto my leg and would not let go. Once I got into the school, I brought him into the office, and once the staff separated him from my leg, I left. He screamed for me, “Help me, Mommy, don’t leave me.” The first day this happened, I cried in my car, guilty and embarrassed. The second day this happened, I cried again with guilt and embarrassment. The third time this happened, I did not cry. The fourth time this happened, I laughed in the car. On the fifth day of this week, he did not cry or scream! (sigh of relief, right?). That’s until Monday comes, and the cycle repeats all over again. My brain knows he has to go to school, and I have to work, but that does not help my heart when this occurs every morning.
Can you relate to this?
Please know you are not alone, and you are doing the best you can; you are doing great!
Can’t relate to this?
You may have witnessed similar situations but have yet to experience this. Please be kind and do not judge.
Here are some tips for coping with this situation that I have found helpful
1. Talk to the school staff!
Does your school have a social worker or counselor? Reach out to them BEFORE the first day! If you anticipate needing to bring your child to school through the main office, talk to the staff there, too! The more support you have, the easier it will be for you to leave your child, and the more adults there will be to comfort your child when you leave. The more familiar your child is with the school staff, the more they may find comfort that these individuals will meet their needs and are safe. Inquire about PBIS; most schools have reward systems in place and may be able to help with incentives. It will also be helpful to create an open communication dialogue with teachers to understand better how your child’s day went and if the mornings have been going well or are a struggle.
2. Take away the unknown and scary fears
Is this a new school? It will likely be a new teacher when starting a different grade level. Try to get your child comfortable with the idea of a new teacher. This is a change, and change can be scary! If your school offers a tour, take your child! The more familiar the child is with what their days will look like, the less complicated it becomes. Create a unique “secret” bond with your child, whether nonverbal, like a secret handshake, or sensory, such as spraying your perfume on their wrist to smell when they miss you. Pinterest is full of fun ideas for comfort objects as well! Remember also to validate your child’s emotions and feelings.
3. Create a routine!
Try to make the morning routine as structured and consistent as possible. Maintaining structure may become challenging when your child is insistent on not getting ready or going to school, but stick to your routine the best you can. Be prepared for changes in routine, such as holiday breaks, to cause some regression. Create a goodbye routine for drop-off that will be the same each day. For example, “I love you. Have the best day, and I will pick you up at 3:00 p.m. I am excited to hear about your day!” Consistency will go a long way in these situations.
4. Reward preferred behaviors
Reward and praise the behavior that is preferred! If your child brushes teeth without being asked five times, acknowledge this! Visuals are the best fit for my routine. I have a visual chart that if my child completes each task, they get a sticker next to each. They will get an appropriate reward depending on how many stickers are on the graph at the end of the week.
5. Ignored unpreferred behaviors
This does not mean ignoring the feelings and emotions that your child is expressing. Pick your battles. As long as they are not becoming a harm to themselves or others, ignore them. Situations like this are frustrating and can provoke wanting to yell, take a deep breath, and remember that children are tiny people with big emotions. Things may worsen before they improve, but remember, they will improve.
6. Be kind to yourself!
You are doing the best you can, and this can be hard! You are not alone, and you are not an imperfect parent/caregiver. Take a deep breath, remember self-care, find support, listen to music, and try some grounding techniques. After dropping your child off, you can call the school to check on them. If the school is having a hard time after 5-10 minutes, you may want to assess if this is something more than just not wanting to go to school.
I know too well that this is all easier said than done, and it can be incredibly challenging when feeling unsupported or having overwhelming mom guilt. You are not alone!
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