"I Donít Want To Go To School"

Understanding and Dealing with a Childís Resistance

By: Michael G. Conner, Psy.D

Revised: January 01, 2009


"I donít want to go to school" is a statement made by children that can bring distress and conflict into the lives of parents, teachers and families. Statements like these are pretty common, but itís not fair or even productive to blame our school system. Schools can help and there is a lot you can do to prevent things like this from happening. Simply becoming aware of the issues can help.

For many children, the summer is a time for activities, freedoms, new routines and making friends. The problem with summer time is that children tend to stay up late, get up late, eat breakfast when they feel like it and they prefer to hang out with friends or watch television endlessly. Many kids naturally prefer an easy life style and entertainment instead of getting up early to go sit in classrooms. On the other hand, some children canít wait for the adventure of an education.

Children can be very direct, and what they donít say in words, they usually express in their behavior. On school nights they wonít go to bed early and in the morning they wonít get up on time. Then they act tired, mope around, are slow getting dressed and they act grumpy when you ask them to brush their teeth and make their bed. Younger child will tell you they donít feel well and older children will do everything in slow motion. They make little effort to awaken their mind and spirit. Here are several reasons why children act this way.

Children Resist and Donít Respond Well to Changes in Their Lifestyle and Routines.

Some Children Are Afraid of The Social Environment At School.

Some Children Donít Consider Their Education A Rewarding Experience.

Children cling to their freedom and the routines in their life that feel rewarding. Children resist changing anything that already feels good or doing anything that feels hard. Sure they like excitement and they are willing to scare themselves, but thatís usually for entertainment or to test their abilities and impress their peers. Going to school requires children to make an effort to do things in the morning that are either not part of their routine or not easy. Children will resist going to school even if they have a good experience once they get there. Many children live in the moment Ė especially in the morning. And for some children, the excitement and challenge of school fades.

Children ask me, "Why canít I just go to school when Iím ready?" I have spent a lot of time facing questions like these. What I discovered is that children will rarely accept your answer. Children seem to be saying "I donít want to do this and Iím hoping you will make this easier because I would rather be grumpy, angry or a victim than force myself to do something I donít want to do." They are also saying, "Why do you make my life easy and then make it hard?" That is a good question. Unfortunately children have a hard time appreciating even a good answer because it doesnít make their life any easier. So there is no point in arguing.

"What Can I do?" and "What Should I not do?

Children who are resistant, grumpy and need your help are much easier to deal with than children who are argumentative, oppositional and prone to emotional outbursts. Here are some guidelines and suggestions.

Avoid Getting Angry or Making Threats. Immediate punishment, coercion or threatening children with consequences may get immediate compliance. A power struggle in the morning can work, but weekly power struggles will bread resentment and damage the bonds between you and your child. You need help if going to school becomes a daily struggle. You are definitely in trouble if you end up angry and in an argument most mornings. Talk to your first period teacher and school counselor. You may need some help from a professional counselor who specializes in parenting.

Provide Guidance, Instruction, Practice, Choices and Consequences. It helps to discuss your expectations, answer questions and develop a routine with your child. Routines are best if they begin the night before. The proactive approach is usually more productive than confronting and overpowering problems in the morning. I have a routine with my seven year old daughter. I will warm her clothes in the dryer if she gets them out the night before. I will bring hot chocolate to her room after she makes her bed and while she is putting things away. She can take a shower the night before or in the morning. I get her up earlier if she doesnít want to take it at night. She canít come down stairs until she brushes her hair. If she is not down stairs by 8am she canít watch her favorite educational cartoon with breakfast. The TV is off after the show and she needs to get her backpack ready during the commercials. I will fix the breakfast of her choice the next day if she finishes her breakfast, brushes her teeth and is ready for school by 8:30. Of course I give her extra help if she tries hard the next day. I pick the food if she is causing extra work for me. I will also walk or ride bikes to school if she is ready to go by 8:30. That one is a challenge but sometimes it works. I talk to her teacher in the morning with her present if we are late. And there is less freedom and activity that night if we are late to school. I wonít struggle with her. I donít get mad and I wonít argue. I never say "I wonít argue with you". What happens each day simply happens and I am there to help her when she asks. And she does ask.

Older children and teens are a bigger challenge. If a child canít get up on time, your options include things like having your child go to their bedroom sooner that night with no TV or games. They can read and write or sleep. Reading will usually cause kids to become sleepy. Getting clothes, lunch and backpack ready the night before can help. Setting up an allowance for chores completed for the morning only can inspire children who arenít independently wealthy. Pack a lunch and giving your child no money for lunch if they donít eat a breakfast before they leave. Take them to school and talk to their teacher and counselor with them present if they are late. Kids hate that and you donít need to be sarcastic Ė just apologize. Make an appointment with the Vice-Principal if your child is consistently late. Take away car privileges if they canít get there on time and take them to school yourself. It helps to tie things like access to a car and other privileges to school attendance and grades. It can also help if you get up earlier and get your self ready and then spend some time making the morning more interesting or special and fun for your child.

Recognize That Children Are Different. Children are not necessarily being difficult on purpose. Some children are not nearly as selfish or lazy as they are merely "creatures of habit". Some kids can handle abrupt changes in their lifestyle. Others will desperately cling to their routines and resist even those changes that make their life easier. Not all children are as flexible as we would hope. Change is hard for some kids.

Unfortunately you may already be one of these parents by the time you read this article. Prevention is the best alternative. Next summer, you might consider establishing a summer routine that is closer to the routine necessary to attend school in the Fall.


Dr. Conner is a clinical, medical and family psychologist who completed a research and training fellowship in graduate medical education and health education. He provides training, evaluation and intervention services for adults, families and youth. He is Board Certified in Traumatic Stress, Emergency Crisis Intervention, Emergency School Response and Sports Psychology. This article is also available at www.CrisisCounseling.Com. Dr. Connerís practice is located in Bend Oregon and he can be reached at 541 388-5660 .