Help! My kindergartener hates school all of a sudden

Dear Dr. Heather,

My son Ethan started out in kindergarten this year. We all thought he was ready. He loved it at first – but now we have to drag a screaming child to class every morning. His teacher is very sweet and we don’t understand what the problem is. What should we do?


Kara in Kahului

Dear Kara,

This is a common worry at this time of year – Ethan is not alone. Parents worry that something must be going awfully wrong in the classroom. Or maybe their child just wasn’t ready for kindergarten, after all? I’ve listed my top kindergarten readiness factors here — but most children like Ethan ARE ready for kindergarten – they’re just in a tough transitional phase.

The tough thing is Ethan’s growing realization that this kindergarten thing is my new life. I have to go there every day! I thought it was fun at the beginning, but this is a big step for me — and it sure is easier at home!

Poor Ethan can’t be blamed for changing his mind about kindergarten. After all, to him, “starting school” really only meant “going and having fun for a few days”. You know – like it looks on TV. Kids go to school for a while, do fun projects, and around ride on a cool school bus.  Ethan didn’t quite grasp the concept of “being in school the entire rest of your childhood.” But he’s starting to get the picture – and it sure seems awfully difficult.

Because a 5 or 6-year-old still has, in many ways, a preschool mind-set. We expect a kindergartener to be a “Big Kid” and go to the “Big Kids’ School”, yet emotionally, they’re still more similar to the squirrely preschoolers they were last year. Kindergarten is a great boost for Ethan’s development. But it will be quite a challenge until he adjusts.

So, what to do?

  • By and large, “kindergarten hating” is temporary, normal, and not cause for undue concern. Talk with your little one about school. Listen to his fears, and clarify any confusion he has about his classroom.
  • Be positive, and don’t entertain a discussion about staying at home. Say, “I know it’s hard, but it will get better. We’ll help.”
  • Rely on the teacher for advice and guidance. She goes through this every year. She’ll have suggestions – don’t be afraid to ask.
  • Give it a few weeks. If your child is still upset about going to school, then it’s time to schedule a sit-down meeting with the teacher to explore what might be going on. You’ll also want to observe the classroom in process.

Most of the time, kindergarten fears and tears evaporate by Thanksgiving. I expect Ethan to be fully into the swing of school by then – and his parents will be left tearfully wondering, “When did my baby get so grown up?”