How to cope when your child doesn’t want to go to school

Photo of a mother and child at school

As September begins, back-to-school season officially kicks off. Even the most confident child can be hit by new-term nerves – they might have a new teacher/classroom, be moving to a new school, or just have had lots of fun being home for six weeks! – but it can be a particularly tough time for those who have always found drop-off time unsettling.

This can be a really unnerving period for parents as they navigate how to get their children out the door and through the school gates, with potential tears and tantrums when it’s time for mum or dad to leave. This can affect you all day, as you worry about how your child is doing and if they are struggling. The Mum Guilt can be dreadful and it can be so tough to concentrate at work and focus on the task at hand.

My son George has often gone through periods of unsettled nursery drops-offs and I know firsthand just how upsetting it can be.

Here’s a few tips I compiled on how to cope with challenging drop-offs. You don’t need to do all of them, these are ideas for you to pick and choose from and that work for me and I’ve shared with many of my clients who are working parents.

  • If possible, block out your morning for you – it is emotional. Organise to have a cup of coffee with a friend / phone chat and cup of tea. Avoid rushing straight into meetings.
  • Speak with their teacher and formulate a plan together. Your child may respond well to being given a ‘special task’ with the teacher – such as setting up some toys for the day – that offers an incentive that makes them want to start the school day, or they may be happier if allowed to walk in with a friend or staff member. Some might like to have a toy or keepsake in their bag.
  • Arrange to walk and meet a school friend on route, or as you go in: having another child to arrive with can make a big difference, and can provide the diversion/excitement needed to avoid an upsetting start to the day.
  • Tell your child who will collect them – remind them who is going to collect them and be waiting for them at the school gate / after-school care.
  • Don’t ask too many questions when you collect them – you won’t get many answers, or ask something specific like, “who did you play with today?”
  • Show delight when you collect them – leave your phone in your bag and focus on them. Connect with them by looking them in the eyes, giving them a cuddle, not being distracted on your phone.
  • Don’t blame yourself if they are upset and clinging to you – I created this 30-minute recording on how to cope with Mum Guilt that you can listen to like a podcast, perhaps on your commute, while taking a walk or running errands. Listen here.
  • Take a sandwich or a snack – George sometimes doesn’t eat lunch and bringing a snack can really help. Just like me, he gets “hangry”!
  • Match and mirror their energy: if they are excited, be excited, if they are tired, take things slow. If they are talking softly, you talk softly. It’s about matching their body language and facial expressions, which are often a true mirror of how they are feeling. If you match this, then they tend to respond well – they feel “heard” through your body language. Remember that we are visual creatures and body language says so much. This blog has more.

Every child is different, and what works for one may not for another. Please be reassured that many children go through this, and it can often be a phase you need to find your way through.

If you’re a working parent and struggling with the juggle, I created The Working Mum’s Toolkit for you. It is a course to guide you to balance work, motherhood and you. Learn to do the juggle, be less exhausted, have less Mum Guilt, more boundaries and confidence. It includes over 30 tools and resources, including audio, video and checklists – and can be completed at your own pace. Enrol now at the special introductory price of £37 (available for a limited time).

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