Take Five for Education: UT Offers Tips for Children Who Resist Going to School

KNOXVILLE — Now that school has started for many students across the country, some parents may find their child doesn’t like school or even refuses to go.

Sherry Mee Bell, an associate professor of special education at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, offers five strategies for parents to help get their child back on track.

Some signs that a child is resisting going to school — besides flatly refusing to go — are complaints of stomachaches or headaches, acting withdrawn, crying or exhibiting a personality change from happy to irritable when it is time to go to school.

“Sometimes there is anxiety the child is expressing by refusing to go to school. It could be something at home or something at school. The source could be something as big a family issue or as small as being afraid the teacher will call on them during class,” Bell said.

1. Say Goodbye and Leave — Parents often make the mistake of lingering when they take their child to school. Sometimes this can make it harder for the child to transition into staying at school.

2. Work with the Teacher — Tell your child’s teacher about your child not wanting to go to school. Develop a strategy to ease the child into the classroom such as having the child quickly directed to an activity to keep him busy as the parent leaves.

3. Listen to Your Child — Sometimes just letting your child talk about going to school may solve the problem. Ask open-ended questions, and encourage her to verbalize her feelings.

4. Investigate the Problem — Identify the root of your child’s uneasiness. Stressors at home such as a sick relative, a divorce, fighting between parents or a parent away in the military could be the cause. If not, it could be a problem with a bully or something that seems simple or easily overcome to adults such as a daily assignment the child doesn’t do well or a food served at snack time that your child doesn’t like. Check with a doctor to rule out a medical problem if your child complains of feeling sick.

5. Seek More Help — Consult other professionals at the school for help when the teacher and parents have continuing concerns. Most schools have a guidance counselor, school psychologist and a special education teacher. The problem could be related to a learning or development delay.

Bell also is a school psychologist and consultant, and her research focuses on reading and learning disabilities and assessment for reading and education.

Bell and her husband are parents of four children.


For media who would like to set up an interview with Bell, contact:

Elizabeth Davis, UT media relations, (865) 974-5179, elizabeth.davis@tennessee.edu