Is your child not settling at primary school? I moved my son within 4 months, now he goes in with no tears

Moving schools was the best thing I could do for my five-year-old, after four months of refusal I finally listened to him

Moving schools decisoin illustrated by five year old in yellow jumper walking away
(Image credit: Stephanie Lowe)

I'm Stephanie Lowe, family editor here at and I'm sharing my story, not to bash nor teacher shame, but for the parents who have a gut feeling that their first choice school, might not be the right fit for their child. 

Settling a child into school isn't always easy - it is for some - but for others, there's so much more to it than buying the best school shoes or the right school supplies or making sure the packed lunches are 'healthy'. Some parents are met with daily meltdowns and battles, that are emotionally, physically, and mentally draining - and usually before they've even had their first coffee. So, let me start with this. If your child is;

  • Refusing to get dressed
  • Saying ‘I hate school’
  • Crying at the school gates
  • Not letting go of you
  • Running away from the classroom door

I know that everyone’s situation is different and I’m in a privileged position to be able to move my child; I have a car, there are no siblings already settled in the school, and I have a flexible job that allows me to fit a longer school run in.

Know that you are not alone, your child is not broken, and you are not a bad parent. You have a good child, having a tough time. And you are a good parent, having a tough time. Read it again.

I felt so alone when my son seemed to be the only child of 32 children refusing (point blank!) to go in the classroom. He would get dressed in the morning okay, get in the car okay, scoot to school okay, stand in line okay… but as soon as the teacher opened the door he just seemed stuck.

As a first-time mum, I wasn't entirely sure what I was looking for in a school until my son was at the wrong one.

Some days he would cry and not let go, others he would scream and run away into the playground. The worst ones were where he would cling on to the gates screaming 'mummy come back' as I walked away. I’d call after to check he was ok to hear ‘oh, he’s fine now, he’s happy eating a snack on the carpet/playing with friends/colouring’. Just because he's 'fine now' doesn't mean it's okay to overlook that he struggles with separation at the gates. He's four years old, this struggle should not be a surprise.

Child not settling at school

Just writing this brings back a flood of emotions, fears, and tears, it’s like PTSD. It took four months of refusals, tears, and meetings with the school for me to eventually hear my child. To see and understand that his ‘disobedient behaviour’ as society sees it, is in fact his communication.

Before he started school he was able - and willing - to get up in the night and go for a wee when he needed to, and he was sleeping in his own bed. Both of these things stopped happening. He was in our bed every night, and wetting himself sometimes three times a night. Not only was his behaviour telling us he wasn't happy, his body was too.

This school wasn’t a good fit for him. The setting wasn’t as nurturing as I had hoped for four-year-olds. The expectation that a stranger's outstretched hand and muttering of ‘come on’ the distraction of LEGO while parents are advised to 'just go' is enough to make a connection with a child is outdated at best, and damaging at worst. This doesn't help children to feel safe, it doesn't build trust and connection. This school was falling short of what Ted - what all children - need and deserve, to feel safe, heard, and valued in a place where they spend six hours a day.

Child runing away from camera in a park

My son at 2 years old

(Image credit: Stephanie Lowe)

And the kicker, the final straw that broke this weary mother’s back was when the head teacher said to me ‘we don’t have the resources to spend half an hour every morning to get a child into class’. I stood on the playground with the headteacher, vision blurry from tears, while I helplessly watched my son’s little wrists continually grabbed at by a well-meaning teaching assistant to ‘get him into class’. My son was four years old, touching anyone’s body without their consent is not okay. It's not acceptable to do it to adults. And an adult doing it to a child just models ‘I’m bigger than you I can do what I want.’

Yet I didn’t stop them, because I felt that I was in the wrong and that my child was broken. When really my son had come from full-time nursery, (he was what I affectionately liked to call ’a lifer’ he was in from 7am - 430pm), and he never acted like this, so the problem wasn’t him. The problem was the setting, it was the school, it was the fact that they - the adults - didn’t make him feel safe.

As a first-time mum, I wasn't entirely sure what I was looking for in a school until my son was at the wrong one. I made the decision to move him and know now what I needed to see and hear. Words like 'nurturing' 'investing' 'continuous provision' and 'child-led'. And the new school I landed on hit all of these, their ethos was 'all behaviour is communication' and I knew I had the right school as it fits with our values as a family.

My advice

You know your child better than anyone and if the morning school battle is bigger than any other battle you've had with your child, pay attention. That behaviour may be trying to tell you something, something children aged four to seven can't voice as they're not mentally developed enough to do that just yet.

I changed my son's school after four months, and we have never regretted it. He is a different child, he is back in his own bed, dry since he started. He bounces into school. Yes, he has wobbly mornings occasionally, but that's all it is, a wobble. It's not a full-blown, dysregulated, fight-or-flight meltdown. It's a wobble that is easily overcome by seeing his class bestie, or remembering that it's chocolate custard for pudding today. The change is evident.

To find out more about changing schools in Reception year take a look at this helpful site on gov. uk

For more tips and ideas, such as how to help a sensitive child go back to school and how to navigate packed lunches and school healthy eating policies with a fussy eater follow our back-to-school month page.

Stephanie Lowe
Family Editor

Stephanie Lowe is Family Editor at GoodToKnow covering all things parenting, pregnancy and more. She has over 13 years' experience as a digital journalist with a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to all things family and lifestyle. Stephanie lives in Kent with her husband and son, Ted. Just keeping on top of school emails/fund raisers/non-uniform days/packed lunches is her second full time job.