My Facebook feed which, just a few weeks ago, was filled with images of shiny kids on their first day back is school has changed. Now it’s filled with daily tales of frustration and woe as my fellow parents are faced with clingy, reluctant kids who just don’t want to go. How do you cope when your child is the one defiantly refusing to approach the classroom door, or the one who dissolves in tears when it’s time for the parental goodbye?
Your first task is to work out why. That should steer your course. You’ll get lots of people advising you to employ tough love, but it’s not the only, or the most effective strategy is some situations.
You know your child and your teacher is observing their behaviour during the school day, so your first step is to gather information. Most teachers are very happy to chat at the end of the day, as a fractious drop-off is unsettling for the entire class. Once you establish why your child is upset, I have attached a strategy to address each reason for the tears.
Common reasons for school reluctance:
Tiredness: School is stimulating, exciting and new – and exhausting. Many children will experience fatigue in the first few weeks of school as the pace of the holidays is left behind and the busy school routine begins. I’ve even seen it in high school students! If your child seems listless in the afternoons, this may be the reason for the morning emotional outbursts. Strategies to combat this might be an earlier bedtime (sometimes an extended storytime in bed, or even guided relaxation can help them fall asleep sooner), rethinking the amount of after school activities, and limiting late nights on weeknights can help. Many junior primary teachers schedule less demanding activities on Friday afternoons so you could even consider a half day and an afternoon nap to help your child rest.
Fear of Missing Out: Children, especially those with younger siblings who remain in your care, soon work out that there is fun to be had at home too. They may also miss the time that they had with you before school term began. Strategy: Try setting aside time after school or on the weekend, for a special activity with your child, where you can talk about all the fun things they did that week. On Fridays, I used to extend my son’s day at childcare by half an hour and take my daughter to a café near school for a milkshake, so we could talk without interruption. This was our special “School Girl Time” – a special treat for a grown up girl who tried her best at school.
Separation Anxiety: This can be especially prevalent in children that have not attended childcare previously. School aged anxiety is rarer, but can be very upsetting for both parent and child. Talk to your child about the morning routine at school, and also discuss when and where you will be picking them up. Get to school a little early so that you can help them with any organisation and get them started on a morning task in the classroom (if the teacher doesn’t set one, provide your child with a drawing book for before class or explore the reading corner). Be positive and don’t prolong the goodbyes – but don’t sneak out while your child is distracted either as this can make the situation worse. Make the teacher aware of the situation and leave when they are free to intervene and redirect your child.
Dislike of some aspect of school: For some kids, their reluctance to go to school can stem from a dislike of some activity or even someone. Talk to your child and speak to the teacher if it’s a problem that can be addressed. However, if your child just doesn’t like “writing time” or something unavoidable, try to shift their focus to the positives. Look at the class schedule and see what the child might have to look forward to that day and talk about that. Another idea is to ask your child to come home with a mental list of three things that they enjoyed doing that day to tell you about over dinner – that way they might be focused on the positive when at school!
Habit: This is the most frustrating reason of all – your teacher tells you that your child is fine after you leave. Sometimes kids get into the crying-at-drop-off cycle or get into the habit of fighting the getting ready for school process for no real reason at all. This is where either the tough love advice comes in or a reward chart is useful. Explain to your child that just like Mummy and Daddy have a job that they sometimes don’t want to go to, going to school and trying their best is their job! A sticker chart that leads to an end of week reward for good behaviour can break the cycle for some children too.
As a parent leaving a crying child at school can be a horrible experience. I wish you every success in establishing a happy drop off routine. Seek to understand why your child is crying and implementing my simple strategies can go a long way to alleviating a stressful morning for you all! Good luck!
About the Author: Lynn Jackson is a mother of three, a wife of one and a teacher of many. Living in her hometown of Adelaide after many years travelling and teaching abroad, she attempts to find time for her passions of photography, reading, writing and skinny lattes with friends.