Help! My child doesn’t want to go to school… 

“Mum, I don’t want to go to school. I don’t like school.”

We’ve all said it, and as parents, we’ve all heard it, but what I didn’t realise before having a ‘school resistant’ (my words) child, was just how difficult those words can be to hear, especially when the young person uttering them is so sincere and vulnerable.

So, what’s going on when a child voices those words? 

How should we react?

How can we support our children through this phase?

Of course, a lot depends on the circumstances of the child. My daughter is 5 and in her second year of the Swiss system. She’s just had 8 weeks of playing with her anglophone friends, hours to immerse herself in her imaginary world of princesses and unicorns, and very few obligations. Then overnight, she was plunged back into a French-speaking environment and a new teacher with a different approach.

Perhaps your child is in a similar situation, or maybe you are dealing with an older child who is facing academic issues. TutorsPlus teacher and former Deputy Head, Steve Newcombe, points out that there are a host of triggers for ‘school refusal’ ranging from a conscientious student who doesn’t want to tarnish their impeccable record, through to complex and far-reaching social and emotional reasons.

So what can we do? In my role as mum to a ‘school resistant’ child, and advisor to our TutorsPlus clients, this is a subject which comes up almost daily for me. Only this morning at breakfast I was confronted with the oh so familiar whine of ‘I don’t want to go to school.’ As I stumbled awkwardly through my usual answers (‘everyone has to go to school’ ‘it’ll be fine’ etc etc) and resisted the urge to say ‘it’s the law just get on with it!’ I found myself thinking that I need a new strategy….

Through my work at TutorsPlus, I am in the privileged situation of having a huge network of education specialists at my fingertips, I have a fantastic support network of fellow mums and as a teacher myself, so I figured that picking the brains of these experts would be a great place to start.

Listen.

The overriding response from the tutors I quizzed about this issue was simply to listen, “and I mean really listen” urged one of the tutors I spoke to. I think I know what she means. The kind of listening when the chatter in your brain quietens, when you don’t do anything else (no idle tidying of toys or thinking that you must take the bins out). “Understand that this is a huge thing for your child and the more you actively listen, the more chance they have of giving you some insight into what’s going on.”

This advice is supported by another of our tutors who tells me that “as a parent and a teacher, I believe the key is to keep the dialogue going”. He suggests ‘booking a meeting’ with your child, and continues, “If that sounds a bit too formal, how about going out to a café for a drink and cake and let your child know beforehand what the agenda is.  Explore the difficulties, test out solutions, be brave enough to try some new ideas.”

Meet the teacher.

A friend of mine, who just so happens to be a Special Needs Teacher, reminds me that if there is something going on in the classroom, it can often be resolved by a simple chat with the teacher. It might sound obvious, but I know that I have avoided this seemingly obvious approach for fear of looking like an overly fussy mum. However, the vast majority of teachers, whether in the public or private system, will be willing to take time to hear your concerns. Those parents trying to express these concerns in a language that is not your own – I hear you. It’s tough. Usually, the teacher will be happy that you are attempting in the local language and make allowances for this. If your child is in International school, you probably have one less hurdle to cross, so make the most of this. Another of our tutors reminds us that every school will have anxious and/or reluctant students, whether it’s because of a fall out with friends on social media, a disagreement with a teacher or long term issues. “Schools are experienced and well equipped to support both parents and students,” he advises, and these words are certainly ringing in my ears as I type an email to my daughter’s teacher asking for a meeting. (watch this space for the outcome!)

Enlist the help of a tutor.

If the problem is academic, there are a number of possible approaches. Perhaps the school has a study club, or a mentoring scheme, perhaps mum or dad can dedicate a bit more time to helping with homework. Or maybe, this is the moment to bring in a tutor to help restore confidence. Often a couple of sessions are all it takes to reassure and get a student back on track. Our team is only a phone call away and happy to advise you on how a tutor could help support your child.

Watch and wait.

Watching and waiting has turned out to be one of my golden rules of parenting – it’s worked for me for issues ranging from potty training to episodes of bad behaviour, and I’m hoping it will also work for this school resistance phase. Of course, this approach is not the same as ignoring the problem and it is key that as parents, we check back regularly to see if any action is needed. So, for the moment, I’m staying calm and reminding myself that as with so many parenting problems, this will most likely be a blip. I’ll heed the ‘active listening’ advice, brush up my French and meet the teacher, and keep an eye on things.

Whether your child is facing academic pressure, friendship problems, a change of school, or just….  unspecified ‘school refusal’, rest assured they will not be the only one.

Do you have any advice for parents of students going through a ‘school resistance’ phase? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

By Liz McEwan.

Liz has worked as a teacher and student advisor for over 15 years both in the U.K and internationally. She now combines her work as a Client Manager for TutorsPlus with looking after her 2 young children.