Friday, 17 July 2020

When Your Child Hates School

Child in school uniform looking down at the floor sadlyNot all children like going to school for a number of reasons, such as; separation anxiety, not enjoying certain lessons, not appreciating some of their teacher's methods or even just objecting to following someone else's rules! If any of those descriptions applies to your child, or even if you have one of those children who are generally fine with school and loves it once they get there, but you still have endless problems getting them to go, then this may interest you. Many children go through phases of hating school and I've put together this guide with some ideas to help if your child is reluctant to go to school, based on my own, and other parents' experiences.

All children will most likely have an 'off'' day at some point, but if it's becoming a regular thing, the first thing to do is look for potential reasons why. Ask them if there's anything bothering them about school or, for a more subtle approach, leave the lines of communication open, by making sure you, or someone else they can trust, is available to talk to after school. A lot of young people have very short memories, especially for things that bore them stupid, which is why you will often get; 'nuffink' or 'don't remember', in response to the question; 'How was school today?' The best time to find out how they really feel about school is straight afterwards, while it's still fresh in their minds and they haven't had a chance to blur important details or stew over situations until it becomes exaggerated out of context. Due to a lot of family's work commitments, it's not always possible to be personally available straight after school, but don't be afraid to enlist the help of your childcare provider, who should be more than happy to lend a listening ear, if required and let you know about any persistent issues.

There isn't always an obvious answer to why children don't want to go to school. In a lot of cases, there isn't anything inherently wrong with school, they would just rather be at home, playing or enjoying your company. It's nothing to do with the school, it's just a personal preference. This can become very distressing, however, when they really dig their heels in, and it can be hard to remain determined when they pull out all the stops to make you change your mind about the importance of sending them to school. It is vital to remain firm though. As with all parental power struggles, if you give in once, you will be making life a lot harder, by letting them know that you might give in. That little glimmer of hope is all the leverage a child needs to unleash a world of nagging and whining to try to get that elusive decision-turnaround from you.

An imposing view of a school corridor, taken from a low angle with a shiny floor and many doors that stretch into the distance.

Depending on how determined the child is, there are various stages you may have to go through, while they test your resolve over the possibility of wrangling a day of school. The obvious, and much favoured, method is, of course, feigning illness and this can be very difficult to counter. The school do not want unwell children there, because they don't have the staff or facilities to deal with poorly children (although, conversely, they will also tell you off for keeping them off too often, but that's another story). So, you have to be able to establish if there is something actually wrong, or not. There are no hard and fast rules for this, and you will get to know your child best. Trust your instincts, do they seem unwell, or were they leaping about, and playing normally, until they realised the time? There is always a chance there is something wrong, so you can't discount that. If your instincts leave you unsure, you may have to keep them off, but that is in no way the end of the matter. There are lots of things you can do, to discourage them from making a regular event of it.

  • Keep things as boring as possible. I see so many school-age children out playing, then hear the parents saying; 'S/he is always resisting going to school, s/he just won't go!' Well, of course, s/he won't go, if home is a better option, so stop that idea for a start. 'If you are meant to be ill, you should stay in bed.' 'If you are meant to be in school, you should do work, so you don't get behind.' See? Being home from school on a school day (where they have asked to stay off, not when they have been quarantined with chickenpox, that's different!) should not be the same as a non-school day. It should be boring, bland and unappealing, that is your best weapon in fighting fake illness!

  • It's a little known fact, that schools run on a system of 'sessions' as opposed to days. Each half-day (before lunch/ after lunch) counts as a session when it comes to absence. So, if the school are unhappy about how many sessions your child has missed and little Junior makes a miraculous recovery mid-morning, don't be afraid to take him in for the afternoon, I have seen many children relax significantly when the threat of going to school seems to have passed and a lot of their previous 'symptoms' have gone along with it. 

  • Get the school involved. It's really important to keep checking back with the school. There is always the possibility that there could be an issue in the classroom. Falling out with friends, bullying, etc, are some of the things schools can look out for, as well as supporting you by encouraging good attendance with their own reward systems in school. My son's primary school gave him a job to do in the mornings so he had something to focus on and look forward to when he got there.

A classroom from behind with boys at desks and a casually dressed teacher in front of a white board.

Look out for patterns in your child's behaviour. Are the problems occurring on a particular day? If it's always a Monday, or straight after a holiday, it could be that they need a bit of reassurance after being away from school and out of routine. Maybe have a friend round the day before, so that they are a bit more confident to go back into school the next day. If it's always the same day of the week, could it be a homework problem or a P.E. lesson? Maybe they have a different teacher that day? These are all things that can be cross-referenced with their timetable if you keep an eye out. 

The most important part to get right, in order to tackle this problem is the morning routine. I found sticking to a timetable was really important. Give yourself as little to do as possible, so you are not stressed and can give your son or daughter your full attention. You don't want to end up rushing, because that will make things a million times worse. Make packed lunches and set clothes out the night before, if it helps. Give the child responsibility for himself if he's old enough and trust that he will do it, A reward scheme can work wonders, perhaps a biscuit (I know, but if it helps!) or another small treat if he gets ready on time. Use times, so that everyone knows what's expected of them, such as; breakfast at 7.45, get dressed 8.15, shoes and coat on 8.30, and out the door 8.40, or whatever works for you. If you are met with resistance, it is really, really hard, but the best thing you can do is remain as calm as possible. Keep on repeating yourself and reminding him or her that everyone has to go to school and all their friends will be there. Try to focus on something positive that they enjoy, such as; show and tell, a favourite lesson, seeing a particular friend. Remind them how boring it is at home. Sometimes if you stay calm, it doesn't have to turn into a meltdown and you might just get them there unscathed. A weekly treat on a Friday, if they manage to go without a fuss for the whole week, might be helpful too. It's all about remaining positive and trying to keep everything upbeat. If you stick to routines and keep repeating yourself, hopefully, they will eventually get the hint, and it will all be worthwhile, they might even accept that it's not so bad after all.

 Top Photo by kyo azuma on Unsplash
Second Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash



  1. This is great advice...My eldest hated going to school when she first started. She just missed me. I had to be tough and just take and leave her. There were tears from both of us but she soon got into the swing of things and loves school...10 years later I actually think she prefers being at school sometimes. lol x

  2. Thank you for this, I have real problems getting my son to go to school. He would prefer to be at home. I will try some of these tactics.

  3. Great advice, if they don't want to go and you keep them at home and make it a nice environment for them, why would they want to go to school? Unfortunately we do have to do things we don't like in life. The only time I can imagine there being a genuine reason for your child missing school is if there is an issue with bullying. If there is an issue with bullying then obviously go to the school and speak to them and try and work the issue out, with the other child involved.

  4. Those fake sick days are really tricky aren't they but you give great advice about making home life boring when they should be at school. "He won't go to school" type comments infuriate me - it's your responsibility to make sure he does!
    My eldest is currently a bit fed up with school, being in the juniors is a shock to the system for him but he has to such it up and get on with it! (Eee I sound such a meany but that's just life right?!)

  5. I'm lucky none of mine have ever really dislike school - of course they have tried it on to get a day off in the past but thankfully they generally head to school with a smile on their faces.

  6. I have spent two years taking my son to school in tears most mornings. School weren't very helpful unfortunately.It is very, very testing and I can see why people relent and allow kids to have a day off. After two full years' perseverence my son just changed and now happily goes to school, but we were so close to taking him out altogether and home educating. Its so hard to watch someone peel your distraught child's fingers off your coat every morning, I'm not surprised that some people take the easier option, even if it is only temporary relief.

  7. We're still at the nursery stage and haven't experience much resistance to going yet. I think when the proper work and playground politics kicks in life will become a lot harder. I'll keep your advice in mind for then!

  8. Ha ha! 'dunno' and 'nothing' are like catchphrases here. I too make days off school very dull - they have to do homework, or watch me work, or anything that doesn't involve fun - if they're "ill", then they're too ill to play. Great advice!

  9. It's tricky - I'm lucky never to have had a school refuser but we DO allow one "duvet day" per term when Flea gets to stay home just because and I think that helps because if she tries the, "My tummy hurts" routine I remind her that if she stays home, that's it for the term and she'll only be watching me work all day...

  10. Thankfully, Grace has never been like this - she has always loved school. Unlike me, who hated the place! I think my mum would have been glad of your tips at the time!

  11. This is great advice. Mine haven't been too bad, but I can see there will be times when they are not wanting to go to school. Great tips xx

  12. Lots of great advice for parents here.My 3 kids have never not disliked going to school but they have had experiences with falling out with friends.They were sensible enough to tell me what the problem was before it got out of hand.

  13. Squidge was the opposite! She cried when I picked her up and not when I dropped her off!


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