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My soon-to-be-4-year-old hates going to school. She attends preschool for about three hours every morning, and every morning she cries and whines to avoid getting ready for school. How can I get her excited about school in the morning?

How heart wrenching it is to have a child who is unhappy going to school. It is especially true when you know not only what fun school can be but also that this is the beginning of 18 more years of going to school! It tears your heart out.

The process of “separation,” learning to attend school independently, is a vital part of going to preschool. Becoming comfortable being separate from a parent or caregiver is critical to the whole school experience.

Children must learn that there are others besides parents who can care for and keep them safe. They must learn how to get their needs met, either independently or with an adult’s help.

It sounds like your daughter may not have completely separated from you when school began last fall. Perhaps the whole process was hurried? Separation can take from two days to two months.

Some schools honor the importance of this process. Others, sadly, not so much. The separation depends upon the school’s practice, your child, you, your child’s experience with separation and your relationship with your child.

I am curious to know for how long this has been going on. Has she ever happily gone off to school? Has something changed in her home life? Have you been working more? Has Daddy?

Often, difficulty in separating to go to school is the expression of something else in a child’s life. You have to be a sleuth and try to figure it out, if this is a new behavior. Remember, nothing happens for no reason.

Sometimes a child’s unwillingness to go to school is about something that is going on at school … but usually it is not. Sometimes there is a situation that makes a child uncomfortable, a peer who is causing some worry or a fear of some kind. But most of the time, the cause is about something else, including parents and what is going on at home.

You ask how can you “get” your child excited about school. The truth is, no one can get another excited person about anything, especially if something else is going on. You can try a few things, however.

Your child should have a close, warm relationship with at least one of her teachers. You need to hand her off to someone who is so happy to see her each day.

“Oh, Caroline!” the teacher exclaims when you walk in, “I have been waiting for you to arrive! I am so glad you are here. I know you will love the finger paints we have out today!”

Every child needs to feel connected and important to an adult in her/his classroom. You can reference that teacher outside of school, too.

“I know Teacher Becky will want to hear all about your visit to the park when you go to school tomorrow” or “Let’s make a picture to bring to Teacher Becky tomorrow.”

When your child says she doesn’t want to go to school, you can reply using a totally flat line tone, “I know. That’s what you say every day. School is not a choice. Let’s pick out what you want to wear today.” And move on. Don’t try to convince her. No more talk about it. No attention to the complaint.

Your morning should begin with a snuggle time, then get dressed and then have breakfast. If she gets it all done in a timely manner, you will have time to play with her Polly Pockets with her.

You can even start a star or sticker chart. Every time she gets dressed and finishes breakfast by a certain time, she gets to put a sticker on her chart.

The only thing I can promise you is that this will pass. By the time she starts middle school, she will want you to stay as far away as possible!