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Ask an Expert: My kindergartener doesn't want to go to school.

Q. What do I do if my kindergartner does not want to go to school? Wendy of Denver

A. How grand life would be if only our children would skip out the house door in the morning, singing a song of excitement about everything he or she is going to learn in school that day! When reality sets in, though, our life as parents gets more complicated. If your kindergartner does not want to go to school, you may want to start by asking and answering the following questions:

  • Is this a pattern? If your child often takes more time to warm up to new situations then give him or her that time as a kindergartner too. You may want to remind your child about the times he or she didn’t want to go to a birthday party, only to have a great time once the party got rolling. Or the times when he or she didn’t want to start karate class or dance class or whatever other classes he or she has been a part of. Be as specific as possible in your stories. Your child’s self-awareness, after all, begins with how you frame his or her struggles and responses to those problems.
  • How expansive is your child’s vocabulary? It’s easier to express feelings of doubt, insecurity, or fear by saying you “don’t want to do something,” then by using I-statements that accurately capture what you are feeling at the time. See if you can probe your child to find out what, specifically, he or she does not want to do, or go to. Does she not want to be away from you? Does she not want to have to sit in a desk? Does she not want to be in a crowded room of children she doesn’t (yet) know? The more accurately you can diagnose the problem, the easier it will be for you, your child and his or her teacher to solve it.
  • How do you know your child does not want to go to school? Who is s/he saying it to, for example? Children can be masters at “playing us.” Telling mom one thing, and dad another, for example. Be a data gatherer, and make sure you are getting accurate information from all parties involved.
  • What has been your response to the situation thus far? The last thing parents want to do is make the problem worse, but sometimes, we unintentionally exacerbate a negative situation. If your child always hears you talk on the phone about him or her not wanting to go to school, for example, your child may assume that identity of a “school hater.” Your child may even feel a sense of pride in getting your attention. At the same time, it’s important not to ignore a problem. Your child’s feelings about school must be acknowledged and honored, which brings me to the next few considerations.

A child thrives in kindergarten when he or she feels a sense of belonging to the class. A child also wants to know what to expect throughout the day, and what is expected of him or her. Talk to the teacher about what you are seeing and hearing, and find out what you can about the activities of the day. Help your child visualize what he or she is going to do in school, where s/he’s going to sit, for example, and who she’s going to talk to. Going through a “mental map” of the day can also help you figure out what parts of the day are most nerve-wracking for your child, where s/he needs the most support, etc.

Lastly, use the power of social comfort to your advantage. Find out who your child is most comfortable with in class, and set up playdates with that child. The more your child feels comfortable with his or her peers, the more your child will enjoy going to school….and maybe, just maybe, skip out the door, singing songs of excitement about what’s to learn in school that day.

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