What to say when your child doesn’t want to go to school

There are lots of reasons kids might ask to stay home from school sometimes, including just needing to take a day off to recharge. But if your child often wants to skip school, it’s important to understand why. How you respond can either shut down a conversation or open it up.

Here are some helpful things to say when your child doesn’t want to go to school.

Your child says...You may think...What might be going onWhat you can say
“I don’t feel like going.”

Your child doesn’t take school seriously.

Kids don’t usually act out for no reason. It’s possible your child is having a hard time at school. It could be something very recent or something that’s been building for a long time.

“I wonder if you want to stay home because things aren’t going well at school. When you get home, let’s talk about what’s most difficult and figure out what we can do to make it better.”

“I’m too tired to go.”

Your child gets plenty of sleep, so that’s just an excuse.

School can be exhausting. That’s especially true if kids are struggling in some way. It takes a lot of energy to try to keep up or hide difficulties.

“It surprises me you’re tired. I thought you were sleeping well. Is there something you’ve been working extra hard at or that’s using up a lot of your energy? Sometimes, just worrying can be tiring.”

“I hate school.”

Your child’s being overdramatic.

Sometimes a specific bad experience or trouble with one aspect of school can cast a cloud over everything else.

“I know there’s a lot that you like at school. Is there something in particular that’s making you so unhappy that you want to stay home?”

“The kids are mean.”

Your child has a few friends, so this must be an overreaction.

It can be tough for some kids to size up social situations and fit in. They may even be the targets of bullying.

“I’m sorry kids are being mean. What are they doing? Can you tell me who they are or what grade they’re in? Would you like me to talk to your teacher and come up with a plan?”

“School’s too hard.”

Your child does OK in school, so this is about not wanting to work hard.

School isn’t always easy, even when kids seem to be doing OK. Sometimes kids can’t meet all the expectations. And when that happens, they can feel like failures.

“It sounds like things aren’t going as well as you’d like at school. What’s the most challenging thing about school right now?”

“I forgot to do my homework again.”

Your child’s irresponsible.

For some kids, keeping track of assignments and managing time is really tough, no matter how hard they try. And if it happens a lot, they might feel embarrassed about it.

“You seem to be having trouble staying on top of your work. Do you feel like that’s a challenge for you? We can try different ways to help you stay organized.”

When you talk to your child about not wanting to go to school, it helps you understand what’s going on. Kids don’t always know what to say, though. So it’s important to pay attention to when and why your child gets frustrated.

Keep in mind that school refusal is often tied to anxiety. Learn more about how to help kids manage school anxiety.

Find out what to do if you think your child is being bullied. Help your child build self-advocacy skills, too. It’s important for kids to be able to speak up for themselves, especially if they’re struggling with something.


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