When Our Kids Don’t Want to Go to School–4 Tools to Try

My daughter is really struggling being away from me every day for Kindergarten.  She loves it once she gets there and gets her day going in her classroom but dropping her off is just heartbreaking.  She’s the kid screaming and crying and running back to hug me one more time and clinging to my leg.  Today, they had to have two teachers pull her down the hallway to her classroom.  She was screaming and crying the whole time.

It’s HARD!  That’s how my day starts…every day!  It totally brings me back to the days when I didn’t want to leave my mom for school either.  In fact, my mom reminded me of the time when I locked her out of the car.  Of course, she was wearing a robe and curlers in her hair in her version of the story.  School was a struggle for me, and now it’s a struggle for my little girl.

In praying for wisdom, here’s what I’ve done, realized, said, or tried.  If you have kids struggling with school or any kind of separation anxiety, I hope these tips helps you too…

First of all, our job as parents isn’t to change our children’s emotions.  Our job isn’t to convince our kids to want to do something.  Our job isn’t to be pushy and demanding nor telling them they should feel a certain way.  “School is fun!”  “You should be happy to go!”  “You love to see your friends.”  “You always have so much fun once you get there.”  Not helpful.

Our job isn’t to make them feel shameful for how they feel “Stop it. You are the only kid crying.”  “Look at you–you’re the ONLY KID crying!”  Our job isn’t to compare them to other kids “Look–all your friends are going in without crying.”  We definitely don’t want to plant the seed of “you do something because ALL the other kids are/aren’t doing it”.  Our children are unique individuals with their own unique feelings.

We want to be a safe person who our kids can come to no matter how they feel.  I don’t like it when someone tries to change how I feel or tells me I should or shouldn’t feel a certain way.  I just want to be listened to…understood…empathized with.  Our kids need the same from us.  Our job is to empathize with them and teach them strategies for what to do when they do feel anxious.

Empathy Tool

  1. THE EMPATHY TOOL 
  • “I totally understand how you feel. Let’s talk more about why you feel that way.”
  • “I’m here to listen.  Tell me how you’re feeling.”
  • “I know how you feel.  I used to feel upset or a little nervous about going to school too. Do you want a hug?”
  • “It’s ok to be sad. Tell me more about your sad feelings.

Allowing kids to express their emotions actually helps to release their emotions (not suck them in and store them up for later). Plus, if you say these things with affection…you are helping their brains calm. Plus, empathy doesn’t create a power struggle like convincing does and it gives our kids the power to express their emotions and calm down when they’re ready…not because we are making them.

Prayer Tool

2.  THE PRAYER TOOL

“Let’s pray together.”  Remind them that God’s love and presence is always with them.   They are never alone.  He is always there to comfort them when they are sad or feel lonely.  Help them find comfort in God’s word.  Give them empowering Bible verses to memorize or write them down and put them in their backpack. The verse I used for separation anxiety was from Joshua 1:9–Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. For the Lord, Your God, is with you wherever you go.

Reminding our kids that they can rely on God for comfort and peace can empower them to be confident for anything!

The Teamwork Tool

3.  THE TEAMWORK TOOL

Let’s remind our kids that, just like God, we love them and are here to work as a team to figure out a way to make going to school better.  Especially when it’s something kids have to do, we can say:  “I totally understand you don’t want to go.  You don’t have to want to go, but you are going to go to school. Let’s work as a team to help make it better.”  I used this tool with my daughter and we came up with a list of things she can do.  Remember, it’s not me forcing her not to cry, it’s me comforting her and helping her to feel strong and capable in finding a solution.

  • To help her remember that I’m always in her heart and she’s always in mine, we decided that we could give each other “heart hugs”.  I told her whenever she felt warmth in her heart, that was me giving her a “heart hug” from home and she could do the same for me.
  • To help her feel close to me, we decided she could keep a picture of me or a picture of our family in an envelope for her to look at throughout the day.

Age Tool (4)

4.  THE AGE TOOL

Every day, our kids are a day older.  And every day, we can look at that day as an opportunity to try anything again.  So, yes, even though they cried yesterday at drop-off, doesn’t mean that they will or that they have to cry today.  “You’re a day older today…how do you feel about going to school today? Do you think you’re old enough to walk to your classroom on your own?”  I’m not trying to teach her to stop crying.  Remember it’s OK for our kids to be sad…it’s OK for them to miss us.  We are in no way trying to teach them that expressing their emotions are bad.  But it’s the process of teaching them coping skills for when they do feel sad.

And my daughter absolutely can still cry and be sad, but it’s the fit-throwing and having to be dragged down the hallway by several teachers into her classroom that we are trying to help her through.  I want to teach her to be sad, but to also be brave at the same time and show self-control.  Boldness and bravery are not in the absence of sadness. They can coexist.

Kids need to know that every day, they are a day older and every day they get more and more capable, smart and confident to learn, grow, and improve.

Kids need to feel empowered that they can solve their problems and that we will be someone to comfort them, pray for them, and work as a team with them to find a solution to ease their angst.

I can’t be pushy with my daughter even though I want her to go in the school without making a scene.  Pushing her–or any strong-willed kid–before she’s ready will only make things worse.  It’s certainly not easy, but I do have peace that if I can be patient and focus on teaching her and empowering her…one day, she will stop crying at drop-off when she’s ready…and not a second sooner.  This is her journey, and I’m just here to teach her, be patient with her, and help her through it.

Lord, give our kids the confidence they need in You.  Bring peace to their anxious hearts and help us to be there to pray for them, bless them with Your word, love them, and encourage them.  

Here’s to building better families—

Christine

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