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How Teachers Can Help When a Child Says, “Mommy, I Don’t Want to Go to Preschool!”

Originally published:

Parent taking child to school

One of the hardest things for a teacher to hear is that a child doesn’t want to go to school. It’s unrealistic to assume that every child will love to come to school, will instantly connect with their teacher, and will magically be friends with his or her peers. Teachers in inclusive classrooms may have to make additional efforts to create a sense of belonging, provide opportunities for learning social skills, and help children develop friendships.

While there are many reasons a child may not want to come to school, there are a few things teachers can do to support children during this difficult time. Things that help build a sense of belonging may increase the child’s willingness to come to school. These include providing positive interactions, creating equal opportunities to participate in events, and maintaining attitudes of acceptance.

Here are three questions teachers can ask themselves if they encounter a child who doesn’t want to come to school:

Do all children in my classroom have opportunities for positive interactions throughout the day?

Take advantage of opportunities to create positive interactions during the day. These interactions could increase a sense of belonging within the classroom.

  • Be intentional in creating positive interactions with each child.
  • Create personal and positive moments with each child by making eye contact, getting down on the child’s level, and smiling.
  • Provide opportunities for children to interact with each other during play by setting out activities for two or more children or assisting in a game with two or more children.

Can all the children and families in my classroom participate equally in classroom activities? Is someone left out?

Create equal opportunities for participation in classroom events. The following activities can help build a sense of belonging within the classroom:

  • Provide individualized routines such as special hellos and goodbyes.
  • Allow children to be job helpers, such as door holder or line leader, where every child has the opportunity to be responsible for each job.
  • Allow for child-led events such as an unplanned game of capture the teacher. Make sure all children are able to participate.

Do children feel a sense of acceptance in my classroom?

  • Check for evidence of a welcoming environment. Include things such as pictures in cubbies, adequate space for children to navigate the room, and access to the materials.
  • Carefully plan activities that all children can participate in.
  • Show respect and understanding for each individual. As a teacher, it is your responsibility to model acceptance of all children.

Overall, teachers can provide positive interactions, equal opportunities to participate in events, and attitudes of acceptance in the hopes of diminishing the number of times we hear a child say they don’t want to go to school. Supporting this sense of belonging at school will have an impact on successful inclusion.

Loretta Hayslip

Loretta Hayslip

Loretta Hayslip, PhD is the Executive Director at the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s Early Learning Center. She has direct oversight of state funded preschool programs as well the RISE inclusion program. Her research focuses on building a sense of belonging in inclusive early childhood classrooms. She is an active member of both NAEYC and DEC; and serves on the Early Childhood Advisory Board for Calhoun Community College.

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About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program
  • Family Child Care

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2024