What to do if your child doesn't want to go to child care

Published on Wednesday, 07 August 2019
Last updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Article hero image

Cooler weather, darker mornings and sick spells can definitely dampen enthusiasm about the day ahead, and when it comes to child care, many youngsters are putting in longer hours than their working parents.

This means there will be times when your child is worn out, run down and generally reluctant about being dropped off. However, if they really don't want to go to child care – especially on an ongoing basis – then it's important to look at what may be driving this reticence and how you can help.

What are 6 common causes of child care refusal?

Whether your toddler is new to child care or your preschooler has suddenly taken a strong dislike to it, here are six possible reasons for their reluctance:

1. Separation anxiety.

This is very common when a young child first starts care and has to say goodbye to their parent and hello to a whole new environment, routine and care-giver. However, it can also happen as a child gets older and feels their world expanding.

To ease separation anxiety and make child care less daunting, the best strategy is to focus on making your child feel secure and connected. To do this:

  • Make sure they're attached to a special care-giver before you leave, preferably the same one each day, greeting them with a smile
  • Build an interactive and trusting relationship with their care-givers, so your child trusts them too
  • Send your child to care with something comforting, like a loved toy, a photo of Mummy or Daddy's tie
  • Stay positive about all the fun things they'll do at child care

2. Changes at child care.

Children respond well to routine, grow accustomed to their environment and form bonds with educators, so a sudden child care refusal might be driven by changes in the care dynamic.

Has their good friend moved away? Are drop-off and pick-up times inconsistent? Has something happened to another child which makes them wary about going to care? Are they picking up on your own uncertainty about the service? Is there an environmental factor that's worrying them, like smelly paint or a barky dog next door?

To find the problem, speak with your educators and see if there have been changes in the dynamic. From there, you can work together to find a solution and make your child feel happy and secure again, e.g. it might help to set your child up with a new friendship group or arrive at exactly the same time each day.

3. Changes at home.

Your child can also be affected by inconsistencies and changes in the home dynamic. Moving to a new house, pregnancy, bringing a new baby home, a late night or returning from a super exciting holiday are all things that can affect your child's readiness to skip off to care with enthusiasm. If your child has been away sick, it can be hard to get back into the child care habit.

In this case, give your child time to adjust to changes in their life and focus on re-establishing a good routine at home.

4. Big feelings.

Child care refusal can arise when your child is frustrated and not getting what they want, that is, to stay home. Group care also involves things like sharing and turn-taking which can be hard for young children, so if they're feeling overwhelmed, then you might be able to organise a quiet day at home with Mummy or Daddy to reset.

This is also a chance to build your child’s coping skills and resilience. To help them deal with big feelings, and disappointments, it can help to:

  • Give them the space to feel and express any feelings of frustration
  • Show that you understand how they're feeling
  • Remind your child of the good things they'll miss if they stay home
  • Give them some control over their lives, like letting them choose their clothing, morning snack or weekend activity

5. Boredom.

Gifted and talented children often become bored doing the same activities as their peers, and in the last few months of preschool, children can grow extremely tired of the same old routines and activities.

The solution to boredom is mental stimulation. Quality child care services know how to pique children's interest with higher level learning, so if you feel that the child care refusal stems from boredom, then speak with your child's educator.

6. Developmental changes.

Children gain independence and mental competency as they grow, and child care refusal might be their way of testing the boundaries.

Developmental changes may also lead to anxiety about going to care, such as naptimes at care but your child isn't napping anymore. In this case, speak to their care-giver and find a happy alternative, like quietly looking through books while the other children are napping.

It's important to focus on being calm and positive. Your child will pick up on your anxiety, frustration or anger, so take a deep breath, look for the cause of their refusal and work through the problem together.

What should you do if your older child doesn't want to go to school or care?

As your child grows up, child care refusal can persist. School children may be reluctant to attend outside school hours care and sending them to school might be an uphill battle.

The good news is that it's easier to talk meaningfully with an older child, and according to Psychology Today, school refusal isn't necessarily a sign of bad behaviour. In fact, it often strikes ‘well-behaved and compliant kids' who have a deeper reason for wanting to stay home.

If your child is refusing school or outside school hours care, then the experts recommend that you:

  1. Check for a physical cause. If your child is complaining of a stomach ache, then take them to the doctor to make sure there's nothing physically wrong.
  2. Speak with your child and ask what is worrying them. Make it clear that a plan will be made to get them back to school and/or care and assure your child that they can conquer the problem with your full support. If they're having trouble describing their concerns or just don't want to talk, then don't push it.
  3. Do some detective work. If your child is complaining of sickness to avoid school and/or care, then look for patterns in this behaviour and objective 'clues' to explain their school refusal. For example, is there a particular time or day that they complain of illness?
  4. Meet with your child's educator and/or school counsellor. Find a time when both parents can go to the school or outside school hours care service. This is a chance to find out more about what might be going on (e.g. Is bullying happening?) and it shows that you're involved and committed to dealing with the problem. Focus on keeping an open mind, avoiding a 'blame game' and addressing any problems.
  5. Don't make it appealing to stay home. Instead of showering your child with attention, sympathy and screen time, simulate a learning environment and encourage them to read, study and sit at a desk.
  6. Implement a sick policy. For example the rule might be that, 'Unless you have a fever, you have to go to school.' Of course, you want to be careful not to send a truly sick child to school or care, but if your doctor has ruled out physical illness, then a sick policy sets clear parameters for your child.
  7. Get support. If your child is suffering separation anxiety when you drop them off, or you're tired or frustrated about ongoing school/care refusal, then it might help for Dad or a trusted friend to take them instead.


Your Parenting Matters

Related Articles

Article image

The ins and outs of toilet-training

Why waiting for the signs that your child is ready to start toilet training can speed the process.

Article image

A new way to balance the child care workload between parents?

The growing popularity of the baby-nup is shifting the focus from marriage to children, and this parental agreement promises fairness and transparency around child care and chores.

Article image

What is postnatal depletion?

Pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and keeping up with a little one takes a lot of energy, and may lead to post-natal depletion.