I Don’t want to go to school
There are occasional days when we see children struggling to come to school and parents anxious to drop off their child as they head to work. Although toddlers typically require time to transition in the mornings which is quite normal; occasionally we also have preschoolers who are reluctant to come to school with the familiar “I don’t want to go to school!” – Age appropriate and normal. As humans, sometimes we want change or may be reluctant to abide by routines – in fact, sometimes we also feel like “we don’t want to go to work”. Adults like children also struggle with things that they “don’t want to do” but “should do”. However, when a child says, “I don’t want to go to school” we need to ponder what may mean:
– Could it be a difficulty to transition from a fun morning or weekend at home?
– Could it be that the child is tired or hungry or coming down with a mild illness?
– Could it be that the child is new to class and still not comfortable with the new teachers and classmates?
– Could it be that the child has not fully internalized the new routine?
– Could it be that the child is coming to school later in the morning when the other students are busy and engaged in activities?
There may be several reasons why a child might not want to go to school on a particular day/s. Young children especially toddlers resist change and making a physical separation from parents can be difficult on some days. Encouraging your child to walk from the car/sidewalk into the building, preferably holding the school tote bag can make separation easier.
Routine and consistency are very important when young children are learning and internalizing schedules. Regular and consistent morning arrival makes the drop off a lot easier on both parents and children. With the exception of vacations and sick days, adhering to an established weekday routine makes morning arrival easy for children. Young children do not readily understand abstract adult concepts particularly time which is why some children are particularly sensitive during morning drop off.
Here are a few ways to get through the morning arrival hesitation in a positive, gentle way:
1. Look at the calendar for the month together with your child and show her/him the pattern for work days and weekends. Choose two colors or sets of identical stickers. Mark the stay at home days with one set of stickers and the school days with the other set. This provides a visual guide so that as the child can see the pattern created. Doing this activity each month will help your child internalize the school routine and feel reassured about the school schedule. This calendar system works great for preschoolers but toddlers are a bit young for this abstract concept.
2. Take an extra moment to sit quietly together before entering class. Let your child tell you exactly what it is that’s bothering them. Give quiet reassurance that everything will be okay and should a problem occur the teachers are always there to help. Projecting your own anxiety during drop off will only escalate the child’s reluctance at drop off. Creating a special routine of a quick kiss and hug goodbye will also help during a reluctant drop off. Help your child remember all of the things they like about school. Mention specific teachers and classmates, outdoor play or the special work s/he was planning on doing that morning.
3. Some children may prefer a short verbal or visual story in the car or at home as they head to school. Your story can be something like this: “First I will drop you off and we will have a special hug and a kiss goodbye. Then you will go into the classroom to be with your friends and teachers and I will go to work. After a day at school for you and a day at work for me, I will pick you up at school, and we will go home together to have dinner and playtime.”
4. All classes at LMS except infants begin at 8:30 am daily. If your child is having difficulty separating in the morning, please plan on arriving much earlier than normal to allow your child to walk into the class which is much less intimidating when it is quieter with fewer children.
5. Walking into a busy classroom can be overwhelming for some children. Your child may observe children already settled in for the day and enjoying each other’s company or paired up to work on an activity. The child arriving late may not be readily welcomed into an existing work or play situation. Once the child has settled in for the day with welcome reassurance from the teachers s/he is ready for a full day of fun and learning.
Often children are testing the amount of control they have in a situation. When they have had an experience where they express their will (against routine or their better interest) and detect reluctance to follow through from caregivers, it is natural for them to continue to push and find where that boundary lies. When adults are actively trying to have respect for the child’s autonomy, it is tempting to give the child more control over these decisions than is s/he is ready for. Consistent and clear boundaries alleviate anxiety. They help the child to understand what to expect and that there is someone more qualified making those important decisions in their best interest. Lingering at drop off time only increases anxiety, as the child now perceives her/himself as having more control than s/he is actually prepared to handle. Extending the goodbye sends the message that the parent also perceives the negative association that the child is conveying, validating those negative emotions instead of mitigating them.
“I don’t have any friends” – “No one wants to play with me”
Sometimes children may verbalize reluctance to come to school in the morning by saying “I don’t have any friends,” “No one wants to play with me,” “…. Said they are not my friend” and so on.
Although these statements may be valid from the child’s point of view, they child’s perception of the entire situation may be different from the actual occurrence. Young children typically prefer parallel play over interactive play. They are content to play side by side with a peer and engaging sparingly.
When young children are engaged in play, they have a special mindset about the games they are playing and a clear idea of how they want to play a game. A suggestion from a friend to play differently may not go over very well. Preschoolers are encouraged to play with all classmates although they may prefer one or two friends. Sometimes when a chosen friend decides to play with other classmates, this may not go over very well – which can be verbalized like “… is not my friend anymore.” Although factual at the time, it is important to not take such statements literally or continue to sympathize with the child excessively.
Instead, empowering the child with terminology such as – “it’s okay, tomorrow you can play with ….”, “since ….. was busy with the other friend, I hope you got to play with … and enjoyed yourself”, “it’s nice to make new friends” etc. Allowing the child to feel that this normal part of playing with friends and that each day you get make new friends and play new games.
Although these occurrences are minor and short, they are valuable learning opportunities for young children as they learn to navigate social skills and learn acceptable social norms and communication skills. Allowing children to sort through these challenges empowers them to handle situations independently and teaches them valuable life skills and resiliency.
Every day is a new day, and by reacting calmly and reassuringly, your child will soon cherish not only their dependable school routine but also have confidence the teachers have their best interest at heart.