by Lisa Edwards, Parent Coach
Every parent has experienced this at one point or another. You child does not want to go to school. Unfortunately, for some kids, it can become a deep rooted fear that creates a lot of anxiety. This fear can last for one day, one week, or months. So how do you help your child work with their anxiety and make school successful for them?
Students who are going to start school such as Kindergarten or attending a new school such as the Middle School are experiencing some of the same emotions. There are many ways that you as a parent can support them.
Visit the School
Generally schools will have Welcome Back nights or an Open House where you and your child are welcome to come and visit the school. These are great opportunities for students to meet their teachers and walk around the building to get to know it. These nights are also great for parents to learn information about what there child might be doing in school or what a typical schedule might look like.
But, these, Welcome Back Nights can also be overwhelming. The halls are crowded with not only all the students, but the parents, and younger siblings. This can be an overwhelming experience.
What you might not know, is that schools are friendly welcoming places. You can request to come to the school at an additional time to show your child around. Be prepared that you might not see your teachers but sometimes, it is just walking around the building and finding restrooms, the lunchroom, the playground, the office, etc, that are the most intimidating things for a child.
This goes for all ages that are starting a new school.
Meet the School Staff
The teacher is absolutely one of the most important people in your child’s life. In the elementary school, they will now be spending more time with your child then you sometimes will. Make sure to start a positive relationship with the teacher and keep communication lines open.
There are many other staff, though, that you should have your child meet, especially if they might be experiencing anxiety. Get to know your school counselor. They will be key in your child’s life and will be the one that teachers will call on when your child may need extra support.
On that first day of Kindergarten, when your child is experiencing separation anxiety, it isn’t the teacher who will be able to sit down with them and make them feel comfortable. It will be the school counselor. A great thing is to seek out the counselor in the back to school nights and at least say “hello” and let your child know that they can trust this person.
For middle school and high school it is quite similar. The counselors door is always open so whenever a child is feeling scared or anxious, they can seek out the counselor to talk to.
Another important staff member is the principal. They too will be helping with any students that are needing support. The old way of thinking is that the principal is there to discipline students. In fact their number one job is to support the students, to smile, and make everyone feel welcome and safe. Get to know them in a positive way, so your child feels more comfortable talking with them if they need help.
Your school nurse will get to know your child very quickly if they are prone to stomach aches, headaches, or other physical ailments when feeling stressed. My son was always fine about going to school, until 3rd grade. I am not sure what happened that year, but he chose to go to the nurse’s office every single day. There were very few times that he actually got to come home, but walking to the nurses office and stopping in was the break he needed to reset and get back to class. Building a relationship was key with the nurse, because we had an agreement on when it would be appropriate to call me and decide if he was truly sick.
Look at your school staff as a team. Everyone is there to help your child and make school a great experience. Don’t overlook all the great people that are there for your child when they need support.
Determine the Reasons for Anxiety at School
Sometimes, anxiety pops up after the school year has already started, and you may be wondering why your child suddenly doesn’t want to go to school any more. Then it is time for you to get our your detective gear and try to solve this case!
First thing…try to talk to them when they aren’t at a heightened state. If your child is crying or throwing a tantrum, they are unable to tell you why. They will tell you anything at that point to keep you from making them go to school. It is best to talk to them at a time when they aren’t even really thinking about school. This can be after school or in the evenings. I have gotten my children to have great conversations in the car on the way to the grocery store, or out on a walk with the dog.
Don’t make it bigger than it is. When your child is crying, it is easy as a parent to go to the biggest thing possible as the reason they don’t want to go. The teacher is yelling at your child every day. The other kids are bullying them. Although this could be true, it does happen that sometimes the simplest things can trigger anxiety. For instance, a child may not know how to ask to use the restroom, then becomes anxious about what to do if they do need to go and then it spirals out of control for the child and they can’t get the right words to express what is happening. Children have very different perceptions of what may be happening. So, don’t go looking into major issue, if it isn’t.
Has your child recently been sick and had to stay home from school? If so, they may feel overwhelmed about returning. Maybe they will have a lot of extra homework. Or sometimes, when you are gone one day in Middle School, it feels as if the social world has shifted and you have missed lifetime in the world of friends or drama. Or when they were home, did your child get extra attention from their parents, with time to hang around and watch TV or play video games. They might be thinking, “Why go back to school? This is the life.”
How to Talk to Your Child when they are Anxious about School.
Try not to show your frustration. If your child feels this frustration, they will become more anxious thinking that they are making you mad. As hard as it is, stay calm.
Show empathy, but stay firm. Don’t baby them, and don’t waiver with them. Stay strong to what they say. It is difficult when they have those crocodile tears in their eyes, but your child is stronger than you think, and they will overcome this.
Stay away from bribing or threatening punishments. Going to school is something they need to do, and they shouldn’t be rewarded for going. Threatening punishments will also draw out a lot of negative emotions from you and from them, so stay away from this tactic as much as possible.
Talk about when, rather than if. The night before, start making statements such as “when you get ready for school tomorrow, and when you go,” rather than “if you go to school tomorrow.” This leaves out any opening that they may not have to go.
Keep telling your child how capable they are. Your child is strong, and they can do this. Involve them in a plan to make it better and what part they will have in making the plan a success. Remind them of all the times they have been successful and how this is no different.
Make a plan with your child’s school. Once you know what may be a reason, talk to the school and develop some strategies to help your child. The school staff is also there to help determine what might be some triggers at school that are heightening the anxiety. Your job is to get your child to school, but then you need to let them go. The school staff will take it from there, and trust me, it will get easier.
Take Care of Yourself
One of the hardest things to do as a parent is watch your child cry. It creates anxiety and stress and you just want to make it go away right now.
So, if you have to leave your child, crying in the counselor’s office, you bet that you will be thinking about it all day. And most of the time, your child has returned to class and enjoyed the rest of the day.
Wondering what might be the cause, or how you can fix this issue, will leave you with sleepless nights, and even a few tears of your own. Don’t worry. This is normal. Seek out others who may be experiencing the same things. Talk with a professional if you need to.
But most importantly, take care of yourself. Your child needs you to be calm, and supportive. You can do this!
How else have you dealt with a child who doesn’t want to go to school? Share in the comments below or join our Facebook discussion.
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