What If Your Child Is Afraid To Go To School?

Published by Catherine Durkin Robinson on

Back to school anxiety is real. Most parents want to say, “There’s nothing to be afraid of!” They consider this response a supportive one, but instead it comes across as insensitive. Dismissive. If your child is afraid to go to school, there must be a reason. Here’s how to handle it.

Signs of trouble

Your child might not come right out and say she’s afraid to go to school. Here are more common behaviors that indicate something is wrong:

  • Crying
  • Tantrums
  • Hiding
  • Complaining of illness
  • Self-harming
  • Showing signs of anxiety
  • Not sleeping well at night

Ask them why

Children often want to talk about their fears regarding school. They just need a little help getting started. Transforming a secret anxiety into something you all can talk about might take time. But getting that fear out in the open also takes away its power.

Some families sit down at the dinner table and talk every night. Their kids open up and feel better almost immediately.

Other children need to be involved in an activity in order to talk about their feelings. Here are some things you can do with your children that might encourage conversation:

  • Playing catch.
  • Working on a hobby together.
  • Taking a walk.
  • Playing cards or a board game.
  • Outdoor activities like gardening, yard work or washing cars.

Some reasons kids might be afraid to go to school

  • Learning disabilities
  • Social problems at school
  • Mental health issues
  • Academic stress
  • Behavioral differences
  • New school or other change
  • Bullying
  • Puberty
  • Conflicts with the teacher

Respond thoughtfully

Listen when your child opens up. Repeat back what they’re saying to make sure everyone is on the same page. Take cues from your child and use the same words, feelings and descriptions. This helps them feel heard.

Ask them for a possible solution if they’re afraid to go to school. Explain that an education is required, and you want to pick their brains for what to do. They might surprise you with great ideas!

Some kids benefit from parents encouraging them to face these fears. This shows that you believe in them. That they aren’t alone and have an entire support system ready to help. This includes family, teachers, administrators, and other friends.

Helpful hints to make school days less stressful

Give your kids plenty of time to get ready for school. This includes getting dressed and eating a healthy breakfast. Factor in transportation time as well.

A morning rush can be avoided if clothes are laid out the night before. Older kids can shower, pack up homework and make lunch ahead of time.

A more relaxed atmosphere in the morning means that kids can take their time. They might even benefit from talking through their expectations for the day while eating breakfast.

Other solutions

When children are sick and must stay home from school, the day should closely resemble their regular routine.

For example, plan meals to occur around the same time they normally would.

Your children should wear pajamas, if possible. They should stay in bed when not eating or using the bathroom. It’s okay if this is a little boring. Don’t allow socializing with family or have them out running errands.

Limit screen time other than for homework or remote learning. That includes television, computers and phones.

Schedule bedtime at the regular time each evening. This helps children see sick days as days to recover, with the goal of returning to school. As opposed to fun, vacation days.

Keep calm

Try not to show your children this over-concerns you. It will just add more stress on top of an already tense situation. Consider venting within your own support system and stay positive when discussing this at home.

Focus on solutions if they’re afraid to go to school.

Which parent experiences less resistance when dropping your kids off at school? Perhaps they should get that duty so it’s easier for your children to separate.

Involve the school

Before the school year starts, give your phone number and email address to the teacher. Encourage them to contact you. Ask for their contact information as well.

If something comes up, reach out and schedule a conference with the teacher. Keep the lines of communication open so you’re aware of what’s happening at school. Look for warning signs, behavior changes or negative comments about other children. Teachers might be able to shed some light on what’s happening.

The more information you have, the better. If you feel like you’re not looped in, reach out to administrators. Don’t wait until a more serious problem erupts.

Many districts have anti-bullying policies. Whether the incidents are on social media or on campus, schools take this issue seriously. Ask to see their written strategies for managing and preventing bullying.

If your child is struggling in any way, guidance counselors, school therapists, and special education instructors can help. When utilizing accommodations, attend meetings to discuss progress.

Another idea – perhaps the school will allow you to ease your child back into the school day.

For instance, maybe your child can start later in the day or leave earlier. Some schools want to be flexible. The last year of quarantine showed schools and students that there are alternate ways to educate when needed.

Maybe this is more serious

According to doctors, approximately 1-2% of children aren’t just worried about school. They’re refusing to go under any circumstances.

This results in multiple absences, poor grades and sometimes failing to advance to the next grade level.

The same strategies that help children manage anxiety or fear of school can be used to treat school refusal. If these solutions discussed here don’t work, call your pediatrician or therapist. They might be able to set up counseling sessions and share information that’s helpful to you. 

Remember, kids need unconditional love and support.

A parent’s affection cannot be dependent on school or anything else. Let your kids know you’re on their side no matter what. If they’re afraid to go to school, you can do this by reassuring them that you’ll find the solutions together.

This will help your child understand that they are loved – and then they can do anything. 


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