I have a 4.5 year old boy and he refuses to go to school. Actually it's a daycare program that's run by 2 of my best friends so I know it's a safe and loving environment. I enrolled him for 3 afternoons a week to socialize with other children his age and also to prepare him for kindergarten in the fall. He's never had issues with leaving us or being on his own until daycare. I am now attending daycare with him in order to help him feel safe and hopefully make it his decision to stay but this is costly because on top of the cost for school I am paying for a sitter for my other son at home.
I don't know which direction to take this. My concern is him becoming overly dependent on me—somehow stunting his independence and social skills. We tried forcing him to go and just dropping him off at the door and it was horrible for everyone involved. He cried and screamed for the entire time—which was disruptive for all of the other students and so traumatizing for us and him. It made him even more clingy and needy then I've ever seen before.
I just want to know what the best approach is for him. Should I just drop him off and hope that eventually the screaming will stop? (We tried this for 2 weeks of hell.) Should I invest the time and money to go with him and hope he'll do it himself? Should I pull him out all together and Just start all over in Kindergarten.
Please help me help my child.
Dear Susan, This is a tough one because it is so difficult to know what is going on with him. Have you asked him? You could make some guesses and he'll let you know if you are right or wrong. For example, "Are you afraid of something at school? Are you worried that I won't come back? Do you miss me? Are you trying to show me that you are the boss and that I can't make you do anything?" (This last question will make more sense if you have read any Positive Discipline book about Mistaken Goals of Behavior.) "Has someone hurt your feelings?"
One guess we can make is that he is feeling "dethroned" by "your other son" at home. If you get into his world, can you imagine that he may think that he is being "shoved" away from Mom while his little brother gets to say home with Mom? In his mind, this could mean that you love his little brother more than him. Sometimes it is best to deal with the "belief behind the behavior" rather than the behavior —remembering that beliefs don't necessarily represent the truth, nor are they rational. Go to our video page and watch "All Our Love" to see how one mother used candles to demonstrate her love for everyone in the family.
Once you have helped him understand your unconditional love, get him involved in working on a solution that works for both of you. It is true that he may be becoming dependent on you, so you need to find ways to help him feel more independent and capable. One way is getting him involved in solutions. Let him know why you want him to go to school—so he'll be ready for Kindergarten. Then ask him for some ideas to accomplish this goal? You might be surprised at his ideas. Brainstorm with him and write down all the suggestions. You can also make some suggestions and put them on the list. Then go over the list and choose one that works for both of you. I do not advocate forcing him. Get him involved in deciding how much time he needs before he will be ready to try again. Have faith in him to work this out--with your help and understanding. It is possible that he will be more ready by Fall.
Meanwhile, start having regular family meetings so he can learn to focus on solutions to problems—helping him feel more capable. There are many other things you can do that will help. Have you listened to some of my podcasts. I think you would especially enjoy the last one called "Workshop Results".
I want to end by telling you a personal story. When I was six-years-old, I went into the First Grade. I didn't get the teacher I wanted (the one I had loved so much in Kindergarten). I'm not sure if I was being a spoiled brat or what, but I remember becoming very fearful that we would get locked in our partial basement classroom. When the teacher would close the windows, I would start to cry. It might have helped if my teacher had held me on her lap and simply comforted me. Instead she sat me on her lap and shamed me—calling me a baby. I just cried harder until she put me in the hall. I just walked home (after playing in the park until school was out). My mother was called. She handled it so well that I overcame my irrational fear. All she did was come and sit in the classroom with me for a day—and she had me give the teacher a rose. I don't remember any feelings of shame, just loving support. I'm sure this memory is not completely accurate, but it is what I remember—and I know my fears disappeared and I was fine from then on.
I don't tell you this story to imply that this is what would work with you son. I know you have already stayed with him. My point is that children often develop irrational beliefs. Even if adults can't figure out what is going on, gentle support and encouragement is the best way to help a child overcome whatever is going on.
I wish you the best,