When a child is afraid of going to school, there is almost always an underlying reason. The best thing to do is to try to find out what that reason is. It may be something to do with actual school, such as an area the child is having difficulties with that makes them uncomfortable, or it could be more situational. There may be a situation at home that makes the child reluctant to be away, or there may be something going on at or around school that the child wishes to avoid, such as a bully.
I remember being in first grade when my grandfather died. After his death, my mother had a terrible time getting me to school, even though I was a good student and enjoyed learning. She would walk me into the elementary classroom, sometimes as far as through the door of the room, and I would immediately try to follow her out as she left. At the time, I don’t think I understood what exactly it was that made me not want to be in school, but looking back, I see now that I was afraid that if she left me, she wouldn’t come back either. My grandfather had gone away from me and never returned, and with some childish sense of egotism I believed that as long as I was with my mother, she couldn’t leave me the same way.
From personal experience, as well as experiences of those close to me, I would be willing to say that 95% of the time, it is not school itself that is intimidating to a young child. To a child, safety and security are key, and if a child is seemingly afraid of anything, the intuitive parent or teacher will look further than the obvious to discover what the problem is. It’s a matter of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs- if a child is not secure in their basic needs of food, shelter, safety, security, etc., they will not be able to concentrate on higher matters, such as learning and education. To remedy the fear of school, these needs must be satisfied first, and it is important to realize that children do not always hold the same perspective about a situation as an adult might.
If your child, or a child you know, seems afraid of school, the best thing to do is to develop a sense of trust with the child so that they feel comfortable telling you if anything is wrong. “You have to go to school whether you like it or not!” will not work, because if the child feels they cannot approach the adult with issues or problems, they won’t, and thus the underlying reason will never be discovered. Be patient, and understanding, and if you are the parent and are aware of a situation that may be making the child uncomfortable in school, discuss the issue with the child’s teacher so that they also can do what they can to accomodate the student and understand what is going on.