“I do not want to go to school today!”

5 Ways To Deal With Resistance And Separation Anxiety


Holidays are over and schools are open again so all parents are getting up in the morning to the casual voices, resistance and emotional roller coaster of our favourite mini humans. The image of children who are forcibly carried by their parents, trying in a thousand ways to deal with crying, squealing and stubbornness is familiar to all of us. But why is this happening?

The origin of Separation Anxiety

To understand this behaviour, we need to take a look at our child and consider the concept of "bonding". The critical time is between the sixth and ninth month of life, where there is a selective preference for the mother and familiar persons, whose presence causes the infant the greatest joy. Then the two first forms of anxiety in life are born:

  • separation anxiety and
  • anxiety towards strangers.

Therefore, the mixture of these first positive and negative emotions marks the bond of the infant to the mother, or the caregiver.

While this kind of behaviour can appear to children of a younger age, older kids and preteens can display separation anxiety when going to school for the first time, after holidays, or when there is a change in the child's life such as a new house, a new sibling, a divorce etc.

It is also very common when a sibling is sick and staying at home for the other child to refuse to go to school as well.  

So what do we do when our child wakes up and states to us “I’m not going to school today!”. Well according to psychologists we do nothing in that right moment.

Resistance is a part of our child's way to cope with unpleasant situations such as separation. Our role is to allow them to have those big emotions, and learn how to work through them. To do so, we have to let them feel what they feel, while making them feel heard and validated.

A good way to react in that moment is to try and stay calm, take a big breath and tell them something like “I know going to school some days feels difficult. I remember I had days like these when I was your age and I still do. But I’m going to help you get through this and I know you’re going to have a great day”.

Helpful Tips

Moreover, there are several ways to prepare and protect kids from the possible outbreak of separation anxiety that accompanies the beginning of school and other activities. Some simple tips, recommended by school psychologists:

  • Get the child excited about your most beautiful experiences from school. Make them enchanted with your words and with the idea of starting or going back to school!
  • Put their daily life in a school schedule so they get used to the schedule and routine. Many times separation anxiety is just disguised fear of the unknown.
  • Keep your "goodbyes" short! When you delay separation, you confirm and increase the child's anxiety. If the mother stays at school for a long time, with the intention of reassuring the child, it is like telling them that there really is something to be afraid of.
  • If your child is really young, let them bring along a favourite toy or stuffed animal. Children's attachment to an object, usually a stuffed animal, which psychology calls a transitional object can be helpful in helping our child cope with separation anxiety.
  • Talk to them. There is a chance that they don’t want to go to school because they are facing a learning or social problem. School violence and bullying is, unfortunately, a reality. Give them space and help them express themselves. If you are dealing with a toddler, or a shy child, it helps to give pictures of faces, (smiling, angry, sad etc) and prompt them to show you what they feel.

Don't forget that acknowledging their emotions and letting them feel heard goes a long way with children and adults of all ages!


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