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Here’s What to Say When Your Kid Says They Don’t Want to Go to School

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Getting kids ready for school and out the door is basically the parenting equivalent of being in a decathlon. (Our least favorite event? Tooth brushing.) Except instead of a gold medal at the end, your reward is a quiet house where you can finally sit back with a hot cup of coffee, knowing that your offspring are being educated and cared for.

But just as you’ve made it through the getting dressed portion of the race, your kid throws a wrench into the morning routine that threatens to derail the whole thing. “I don’t want to go to school!” she says, stomping her feet.

“But you love school!” you immediately reply. And it’s true—you know she adores her teachers and her friends, plus it’s art class today which is her favorite! So, what gives?

First of all, know that this is very common. Wanting to stay home is totally normal, experts say. (Be honest—wouldn’t you rather stay home most days too?)

“School is tricky,” says former pre-school teacher and current parenting strategist Lizzie Assa from the Workspace for Children. “There are tons of rules, expectations from friends and teachers, and school can be noisy and overstimulating at times.” But, Assa stresses, just because your kid has a hard time in the morning doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong at school.

So, what’s a parent to do in this situation? First, here’s what not to say. Phrases like “But you love school!” and “You’re a big kid now, stop crying!” aren’t actually helpful. Instead, focus on validating your kid’s feelings and setting the boundary. Here’s what that might look like:

“You wish you could stay home today and instead, you have to go to school. It’s hard for you to get dressed right now. Do you want me to help you?”

Or

“Today is a school day. It is OK to cry and wish you could stay home. You are going to school. I will help you get ready. I am not going to change my mind.”

Your response should be empathetic yet firm. “Keep your eye on the goal of getting to school,” advises Assa. “Make getting ready easy on the hard says. Instead of having your child get themselves dressed and put their shoes on, offer to help. Offer to lighten their load. A little goes a long way.”

The parenting expert also suggests other ways to help on tricky days, like sending an email to the teacher to let them know that your kid had a tough morning. Another tip? Practice the day before by having your child pretend to have a “I don’t want to go to school!” tantrum with you responding in one of the ways above. “This pre-teaching will help for next time,” says Assa. Finally, in a quiet moment—say the night before—talk to your child about going to school and make a plan. Think: “This morning it was really tough going to school. You cried and you didn’t want to leave the house. How did you start to feel better? Let’s make a plan for tomorrow morning.”

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