Grade Expectations: It’s A Battle Every Morning To Get My Daughter To School

grade expectationsGrade Expectations is a weekly look at education from a parent’s perspective. We’ll talk special needs, gifted & talented, and everything in between.

Every morning, my husband tiptoes into my daughter’s room around seven a.m. He softly whispers to her that it’s time to wake up as he brushes the hair off of her forehead. Then he comes back into the living room and sets up a nest of pillows and blankets and stuffed animals to cradle her in while she wakes up and eats breakfast. But before she can even get out of bed, often before she has opened her eyes, my daughter starts whining. “I don’t want to go to school!!!”

The next hour and a half is filled with debate and argument. My daughter cries over and over that she wants to stay home, that she doesn’t like school or daycare. My husband and I explain that staying home is not an option, that school is her job right now and how important education is. We goad her into action. We dismiss her pleas. We push and pressure her out the door and into her car seat with a blanket and a teddy bear to keep her company on the trip.

It’s not that my daughter has school issues. It’s not that she has a hard time learning or getting along with her friends. Her teacher says that she is consistently happy, well-mannered and excited to be in the classroom. She is a good student and a good friend. The moment we drop her off, she stops wanting to stay home all day, she stops all the drama.

So what gives on all the morning battle? Honestly, it’s hard to say.

I spoke with teachers, who say that every year they have multiple children who do wonderful in the classroom but claim to hate school when they get home at night. My daughter’s teacher says that our little girl isn’t even the only one in the class who has problems getting into the building, but excels once she gets there.

I spoke with a school guidance counselor who backs up the teachers, agreeing that plenty of young children have a hard time leaving home but no significant problems with school itself. “It’s more likely,” the counselor explains, “that this is just a part of separation anxiety that your child is dealing with. You just need to reassure her that you’ll always be there to pick her up at the end of the day. That it’s temporary.”

It’s comforting to think that this is normal, that it’s just a phase that some kids take longer to get out of. That doesn’t make the morning arguments any easier. We try to remember just how important it is that my daughter doesn’t see whining or stubbornness as effective means of achieving her goals. We try to perfectly balance calmness and firmness. And, I try to comfort her with specific, detailed explanations of when she can expect me and what we’re going to do when we get back home.

So far, it hasn’t worked. But I guess summer vacation is getting closer every day, right?

(Photo: Tomasz Trojanowski/Shutterstock)

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  • Véronique Houde

    Hmmm… I’m wondering if her wakeup routine is part of why she battles with you in the morning? By being so gentle, by giving her loads of blankets while she eats breakfast, and by giving her a blanket and teddy in the car, i’m wondering if you’re reinforcing her anxiety? Perhaps because you try to reassure her so much, you give her the impression that she needs reassurance, hence that school is an anxiety-provoking thing… Just a thought! I know you are so good with routines, and perhaps by treating the day as “normal” and by not going out of your way to make things so fluffy, it’ll help her move a little easier through the beginning of her day.

    • Oz

      Try making it a rule – once you’re up, you’re up. Right now, you’re making sleep time last right until you pull up outside her school (blankets, teddy bears, etc). Sleep time should be gone as soon as you get out of bed – maybe try getting her showered and dressed straight away, before breakfast.

      Teach her that lying around for half the morning with blankets and stuffed animals should be saved as a lazy treat for weekends, not school days.

  • chickadee

    I agree with Veronique…you have inadvertently created this problem by anticipating her negative reaction. Talk to her about what you expect from her in the morning and resist your impulse to coddle her into cooperation. Children usually comply with your expectations, which is why she is behaving as though getting up and getting ready is traumatic…you kind of tell her that it should be.

    • Leb

      I agree with her, too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of helping a naturally anxious or shy child learn to manage their anxiety (having been one myself), but this seems like a situation where giving in and coddling her is making the problem worse. So maybe instead of the “oh, my poor sweet baby” rut they’ve gotten into, they should try the more blasé “chill out, dear, you’ll be fine” approach. They’ve already investigated whether or not something is going on at school (ie, a bully) and nothing seems to be wrong, so by process of elimination the source of the behavior HAS to be coming from home.

  • Tori B.

    My daughter used to be pretty similar. We came up with a plan where if she gets ready without complaint all week, she gets to stay up an hour late Fri. night. This is such a treasure to her that since we’ve implemented the plan, she has yet to fail. I hate the idea of having to “bribe” her for something she should be doing anyway, but no amount of nagging on our part would work. It takes a while for a habit to form, but she’s been complaint free for about two months now. Maybe next school year, we won’t need the bribe…although we were sometimes letting her on Fridays anyway. This way we get something out of it, at least :)

    • Leb

      It’s not a bribe, it’s a reward for being responsible and really quite brilliant. She gets to do something she really likes in exchange for enduring doing something she doesn’t enjoy at all, which is a effective strategy that even adults can (and do!) use in their everyday lives. After all, don’t we enjoy a “payoff” so much more when it’s earned? Since the process of earning a reward or a payoff so often involves keeping up with responsibilities (which isn’t always fun), I think you’re actually setting a great example for tools she can use to self-motivate later on. =)

  • Zoe

    I was a terrible child to get up in the morning. I’m a night owl and a morning slug-a-bed, and still am to this day. It was hell getting me to sleep and hell getting me up in the morning. I was also an excellent student but lazy, and I just wanted to stay home where I was comfortable in my morning grouchiness. Anyway, my mother coddled me at first. When I was about 7, after a couple of years of failed attempts at bribery and gentle appeasement, she gave up completely and declared war.

    My being carried to lie on the floor in front of the heater every morning (sometimes she even used to dress me) turned into having the bedclothes whisked off me. Sometimes I would be dragged out of bed and dumped onto the floor of my bedroom, where my outraged grizzling would be ignored. The kitchen radio was turned onto news stations I hated at full volume. On particularly difficult mornings when I was being a total brat, I was sometimes dragged from bed and thrown into a cold shower, pyjamas and all. Sometimes she even flipped my mattress on its side so I couldn’t crawl back into bed for the tenth time. It was a battle royale. I was a stubborn contrary child, and fought every step of the way. Of course on the very rare days when my older sister or my father had to get me ready, I was a perfect angel.

    Eventually I started getting up and getting myself ready without the daily fight (though I was still grumpy about having to get out of bed at all), and I honestly don’t know if I would have just done it anyway if the coddling had continued. But it was certainly a clear message from my mother – she was sick of my crap, and wouldn’t enable it any longer. There were clear lines drawn about what she was prepared to do if I did not meet expectations, and cold showers really sucked (even when sometimes I would push her to breaking point just to see if she’d really do it… she did!). Of course your situation is not the same and I’m sure your daughter isn’t a brat like I was. But it’s a case in point of when the gentle approach was making things worse, and correcting undesirable learned behaviour is much harder than not allowing that behaviour to develop in the first place.

  • Hana

    I wonder if this is something she’ll grow out of, because I’ve lived with having that same reaction to getting up in the morning my whole life (I’m in college now). I usually feel the worst about myself when I have to get up early in the morning to go to work/school, but I’ll feel fine once I get going like your daughter.

  • Melissa Anderson

    Ugh my kindergartener is so anxious in the morning she throws up. She’s not sick, I’m 98% sure its just nerves. I would say 15 of the 20+ school days so far, she’s thrown up first. So she doesn’t want breakfast, knowing she’ll throw up. But after she throws up, she feels better, and gets ready. she’s weepy when I put her on the bus (which her grandpa drives) but when she comes home she’s super happy and says her day was awesome. It’s heartbreaking to watch her be so nervous and throw up in the morning and sad on the bus…and so frustrating at the same time because i’m certain she’s having good days with her friends and learning. Sometimes parenthood is hard :)