“You Don’t Love Me! I Don’t Want to Go to School!”

Dear Sharon,

How do you respond to a child who says “You don’t love me…. if you did you wouldn’t send me to school.”

Dear Parent,

Dramatic statements such as “You don’t love me!” or “I hate school!” are not uncommon for little ones to say when they are upset.

A child’s dramatic statements can easily produce a dramatic reaction from their Mom or Dad. Such a response can ultimately increase upset for everyone.

I often recommend that parents in your situation give a clear, calm and brief response to their little one’s declaration and then turn their attention to possible issues of concern, i.e. why their child doesn’t want to go to school.

Although school can be wonderful it is not simple for many children. It is important for parents to learn about the things that are particularly challenging during their child’s day and to offer support and empathy whenever needed.

There are countless reasons why children are reluctant to go to school and at least as many possible solutions. Here are just a few.

Some children have trouble with transitions. Even when the school year is well under way children might still be adjusting to a new classroom environment. In this case parents may need to help their child understand and cope with routines. It might also be wise to talk with teachers to learn details and brainstorm practical ways to help their young one feel less overwhelmed.

Social pressures, even for very young children, can be unsettling as well. It can help for parents to arrange and be productively involved in individual play dates so that their child has rewarding interactions with children that they see every day. Play dates often need to happen consistently to strengthen social skills and build self-confidence over time.

Academic pressures can of course also produce stress and insecurities. Checking with school personnel regularly to identify areas of weakness and then supplementing difficult subjects with patience and understanding at home and/or tutors or other individual or small group assistance can build confidence and lift a little one’s spirits.

Putting more emotional energy into the underlying issues of a phrase like “you don’t love me” can be far more productive than spending time trying to sort through a phrase said to blow off steam.