"Daddy. Were You Afraid To Go To School"

By: Michael G. Conner, Psy.D,

Revised: January 01, 2009

On our way to camp my daughter said, "Daddy. This is my last week at camp. I donít go anymoreÖ.

A moment latter. "Daddy. Were you afraid to go to school?"

"Yes Caitlyn, I was a little scarred."

"Daddy. What were you scarred of?"

"I donít remember Caitlyn. Are you a little scarred?"

"A little", she said.

"What scares you?" I asked.

"I donít know what will happen. ÖHolly says she went to my school and her sister went to Juniper. Daddy. Did you go there?"

"NoÖ I went to another school."

"What was it like Daddy?

If this doesnít sound familiar, you might encounter something like this when school starts.

Many children are worried about their first day of school, and for reasons we donít understand, some children are not fearful or resistant. But it is perfectly normal for children between the age of 5 and 8 to be ask questions and feel afraid. Children communicate their fear in different ways. Fear and resistance over going to school is especially common during kindergarten, when children change teachers or classrooms, and when they are going to a new school. I donít feel good."

"Iím sick."

"I want my Mommy."

"I donít want to go to school."

"Why do I have to go?"

"Donít leave."

Children resist going to school for several reasons.

  • They are afraid to leave their parents.

  • They are afraid of the unknown.

  • They are afraid of what others children will do.

  • Or, they are strong willed and have oppositional tendencies.

Oppositional kids are naturally resistant to guidance and direction. How can parents respond to the fears of young children? Here are some ideas.

Get Advice And Support. Talk to other parents about their experience, what you can expect and how they handled their kids.

Talk To Your Child. Talk to your child several times about going to school in advance. You should do this even after school starts. Listen and be interested in what they tell you. Stay calm, give them information about what will happen, share your initial fear and your positive experiences when you first went to school. Tell them you understand how they feel, but donít tell them they shouldnít feel that way. Sometimes children just need to think out loud and their fear will eventually fade.

Read A Childrenís Book. Read a book to your child about going to school. You will learn a lot and help your child feel understood and less afraid. You may even remember youíre your own childhood.

Draw a Story. Even if you are not artistically inclined, you might consider drawing pictures with your child and creating a story that describes what happens at school. The story should include walking them to their first class, hugging goodbye, classroom activities, making friends, school projects, coming to pick them up and telling what they did when they come home.

Get To Know The School. Take your child to visit their school one or two times at least a few days before school officially starts. Most schools have a pre-school day where parents can come to school, met their teacher and be with their child. Bring a snack and have some fun on the playground.

Expect Physical Complaints. Keep in mind that some children will express their fears in familiar and safe words like "my stomach hurts." This is perfectly normal. Look them over and check their temperature even if you donít believe them. These are important comforting behaviors that can be reassuring to your child. Take them to school if you think they are well.

Make Believe You Are Going To School. Play with your child and pretend you are going to school. Pick out your childís cloths, pretend to have class and pretend you are your childís teacher. Help them set up a classroom in your house. Start a routine of getting up early, having breakfast, getting dressed and getting your childís bag or backpack ready for school. You might help them pick out their clothes the night before and their jackets. Familiar routines will make it easier.

Share The Experience Of Other Children. Invite a young teenager over to your house to baby sit. Ask them to talk to your child about their positive experiences in school. It helps if it is a baby sitter that already knows your child and has been over before.

Limit Or Control Television. Some kids watch television in the morning when they get up. Avoid or limit television in the morning on school days. Start this before school actually starts. Turn the television off at the end of a show - not in the middle. Children are distracted by television and they are upset if you stop the television in the middle of a show.

Get Them Used To Being With Others. Some children are not used to being away from their parents. It usually helps if you can give children a positive experience being on their own. Take your child to an activity at another house with other children supervised by parents you know and trust. Come back soon and take them when they are still having fun.

Nearly all children will have some reluctance and fear over going to school. They eventually get over it with encouragement and support.. But regardless of how long it takes, donít get angry or argue with your child if they tell you they are sick, become temperamental, or if they start crying. Stay calm, listen to them and donít argue or raise your voice. Tell them you love them. Tell them that all children must go to school and then take them to school.

After school has started, children will usually express a desire to not go to school. This is natural part of their growing more independent. Children should be reminded and told in advance that they will go to school each week. When you take them to school, avoid a long goodbye when you drop them off. Your child may become more dramatic and increasingly upset if you give them a longer goodbye each time they get upset. Look to their teacher for guidance and suggestions.

Some children may refuse and physically resist going to school. Most will go and get over it if you have an understanding tone of voice, you are firm and you donít argue. Call your childís school and ask to speak with a counselor or your childís teacher if your child becomes hostile and combative when you attempt to take them to school. Teachers and counselors have a wealth of experience and ideas that can help.

copyright 2002 to 2008, Michael G. Conner