Dear Dr. Shore,
My son, who just began kindergarten, has been giving me a hard time about going to school. He'll resist getting out of bed, take forever getting dressed, complain about having a stomachache, and if all else fails throw a tantrum. What can I do to get him to want to go to school?
Your son's experience is not unusual for kindergarteners, especially if they are going to school for the first time. After all, this is a landmark event in their life, one which promises many changes, but which can also give rise to apprehension.
First and foremost, it means separating from their parents, which can engender considerable anxiety in some children. It also means adapting to a new authority figure and a new setting, with its own rules and routines. For many children, those changes are unsettling. And some may react by making a determined effort to stay home.
The primary goal with a child who is resisting going to school is to get him in school as soon as possible. The longer he stays out of school, the harder it will be to get him back, so don't waste time. Let your child know he simply has to go. Ready yourself for a vigorous protest. Those behaviors are likely your child's way of testing your resolve. Stay the course and resist the impulse to give in and allow him to stay home. If he cries as you drop him off at school, do not stick around. Your son's teacher no doubt has dealt with similar situations in the past and your child will likely stop crying soon after you leave.
Your child might benefit from calling you during the day at a pre-arranged time. That privilege should be used with discretion because a call to a parent can be more upsetting than helpful. Another way of easing the separation is to give your child an item to carry during the day that reminds him of home. That might be a picture of the family or a favorite toy, book, or doll.