What to Do When Your Child or Teen Doesn’t Want to Go Back to School

Many kids and teens haven’t been inside a school building since early March 2020 – and while some can’t wait to return to full in-person classes, others would just as soon stay home. For these students, remote learning was a break from social pressures, certain learning challenges, or other classroom stressors.

If your child is dreading going back to school this fall, how can you help?

Connecticut Children’s pediatric psychologist Bradley Jerson, PhD, shares tips.


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Acknowledge your child’s feelings about going back to school.

Returning to full in-person classes might mean returning to things that are scary to your child, harder for them, or even potentially less supportive than being at home. They might struggle with social anxiety, or have experienced bullying at school. They might learn well on their own, but have classroom-specific learning challenges.

Ask your child what’s on their mind. Let them know that you hear them, and you are here to support them.

But don’t avoid what’s scary.

Learning at home may have been easier in some ways for your child, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was better. Often, removing children from anxiety-provoking situations can unintentionally make it harder for them to work on skill development.

As you help your child prepare to go back to school, remind them that embracing challenges can make them even stronger.

> Related: Mental Health Resources for Kids and Teens

Reach out to your child’s school for help.

If you’re aware that some things will be difficult for your child, talk with their school now about a plan to support them. Simply having a friendly point of contact in the building can be very reassuring to a child.

Build confidence with gradual exposure.

If home has been a comfort zone, your child may be out of practice with the physical sensations and emotions that come up in stressful situations. And it can take time to “reprogram” their brain and nervous system to trust that something that was once scary can be safe – like returning to in-person classes.

Mother and daughter shopping at a department store

Try creating opportunities for your child to experience a little bit of re-entry distress gradually, so they can see that they’re capable of riding out those feelings. Depending on their age and what they’re struggling with, this could mean taking them into the grocery store with you, arranging playdates, or planning morning activities that force an earlier wakeup time. Begin with small goals (“Come inside the store with me for five minutes”), and increase them slowly.

Here’s more advice for kids with social anxiety.

Start forming school-year habits now.

Both you and your child will need help getting back into a school routine. Ask your child’s school for any details to keep in mind, from drop-off rules to lunch options. Have your child write down everything they can work into their summertime routine now, like laying out tomorrow’s clothes before bed, setting an alarm, eating breakfast at a certain time, and so on. Then practice.

(As a bonus? Routines can help your child cope with uncertainty.)

When school starts, set aside time to recharge.

The first weeks back at school may be difficult for your child – and for you. Have compassion. Don’t overschedule or overcommit your family. Make sure your child has time and space to wind down after each school day.

And go easy on academic pressure.

Whether your child attended school in person or remotely last year, their learning experience was challenged and disrupted by COVID-19. Make sure they know you care more about their socioemotional wellness than their report card.

Our goals are to help youth feel confident and empowered in their abilities to learn and function – and to maximize their resilience. Grades are important, but their ability to simply return to the classroom, connect with their teachers and peers, and get through each day is even more important.

Finally, as always: Model calm.

This is more important than you may realize. If you’re concerned about your child’s re-entry into school, your child will likely absorb it. So take steps to get the support and information you need.

Share what you’re going through with a loved one, counselor or another supportive figure. Ask your child’s school how they’re handling COVID-19 precautions, if that’s a source of worry. Get answers to common questions from Connecticut Children’s pediatric experts.

And talk to your child’s pediatrician about any concerns you have about your child’s health, whether physical or mental. We’re here to help.

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