“I’m NOT going to school today!” – how a parenting expert deals with the back-to-school battle

Let them have their moment and make them feel heard – give this a go for a smooth start to the year

Young African American mother preparing her little daughter for school
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Going back to school after the holidays can be tough on kids – they’re thrust into a structured routine and it may also involve readjusting to academic demands after a break, which can feel overwhelming. 

Now that the magic of the festive period is officially over, you’ve probably seen the ‘When do kids go back to school after Christmas?’ message pop up on the Mum WhatsApp group more than once and your child’s back-to-school anxiety might be behind the increasing meltdowns. Nobody likes going back to school – heck, even adults dread the return to work – and a smooth start to the year isn’t realistic for a lot of families, so first know that you’re not alone. 

Dr Becky Kennedy (@drbeckyatgoodinside) is someone who knows the back-to-school battle well. As a psychologist, she offers helpful solutions to real-life scenarios, making parenting just that little bit easier. In her most recent post, the mother-of-three shared what her five-year-old said on the morning of the first day back after the Christmas break: “I’m not going to school today, you can’t make me!”.

“This is how my five-year-old started his morning and what made it harder is he knew his sister was staying home because she is sick so he added, ‘she’s staying at home, why can’t I? It’s not fair!’,” she recalled. First, she explained to her followers what she didn’t do: “I didn’t say, ‘that’s ridiculous, you can’t stay home just because she’s sick’ or ‘you’re going to school, get dressed now!’. I reminded myself, Becky, often protest is on the pathway to cooperation but when we push back, we kind of stop a kid in their moment of protest instead of allowing them to work through it.”

Instead of getting frustrated and having to deal with the fallout – which we can totally relate to, by the way – Becky recommends asking yourself, what does our kid need from us to get less stuck and insistent on this ‘no’?. So she said this in response: ‘Oh, you wish you didn’t have to school to school today’ and then he said ‘yeah’, and then I said, ‘I know, it’s hard to go to school on days when a sibling is staying home.’ He really felt heard by this and a couple minutes later, he ended up getting dressed and cooperating.”

A post shared by Dr. Becky Kennedy | Parenting

A photo posted by drbeckyatgoodinside on

Users were quick to comment on their desire to put this to the test, with one saying: "Great reminder that protest can lead to cooperation and taking the time to listen to my child, and for them to be heard." Another resonated with the back-to-school blues and commented: "This is helpful! One of our kiddos just flat out doesn’t enjoy school. She sees someone regularly for play therapy and we know it’s nothing deeper, just doesn’t jive with school. All good but it is a struggle many days to get out the door."

One mum even commented on the success rate of Dr Becky's tip: "This literally happened with my 5 year old this morning! I paused before doing what I normally would – which would just be to tell her to get dressed and get downstairs. I stopped for a minute and asked her, you don't want to go to school today do you? And she said, yeah. And I said, it's hard to go back to school after winter break. And she said, yeah. And then she proceeded to get dressed. :-)".

Going back to school probably won’t be your kids’ favourite. so try this hack to help make the transition as smooth as possible.

If your child doesn't enjoy reading books, here are 3 activities to try if your child struggles with reading. Elsewhere, the young person in your life is going to love these 7 quotes for teens from some of the most inspiring names in the UK.

Daniella Gray
Family News & Wellbeing Writer

From building healthy family relationships to self-care tips for mums and parenting trends - Daniella also covers postnatal workouts and exercises for kids. After gaining a Print Journalism BA Hons degree and NCTJ Diploma in Journalism at Nottingham Trent University, Daniella started writing for Health & Wellbeing and co-hosted the Walk to Wellbeing podcast. She has also written for Stylist, Natural Health, The Sun UK and Fit & Well. In her free time, Daniella loves to travel, try out new fitness classes and cook for family and friends.