When your child is very unhappy about going to school, he feels the same way that you do when you're very unhappy about going to work. He opens his eyes in the morning and thinks, "Oh no, I have to go back there." His stomach churns and he tries to think of ways to avoid doing what he'd really rather not do. Unhappiness about school grinds down a child's spirit and has the same effect on his parents. You need to find out what's making your child unhappy and help him to solve his problems so that you can all start your days with a smile on your face.
Ages 6 to 8
During these ages, when a child says he hates school, his relationship with his teacher is rarely the source of discomfort. He may be unhappy about something that's happening outside the classroom. Perhaps he hates the bus ride to school: The noise, the roughhousing, and the threat of being pushed around by the bigger boys and girls can be scary. Remember that recess and lunch hour may also be a daily ordeal for shy, quiet children who don't have likeminded friends to play with. Try to determine what part of the school day your child doesn't like and why. Then discuss her worries with her classroom teacher, who should be able to help ease her distress. Here are some solutions for typical problems.
On the bus
Start a "bus buddy" program in which you pair older, responsible kids with younger kids for the ride to and from school. You might also have adult volunteers hop aboard to ensure that all the kids feel safe and secure.
At recess and lunch hour
Include more organized games or activities that give all the kids something to do. This will lessen the time that a shy child may be left standing alone.
On the way home
The walk home can be scary for a child if other children tease or bully her. If bullying is the issue, talk to the principal-bullying should never be tolerated. Also talk the situation over with her teacher. The teacher may know of another child who travels the same route home and could suggest that the two travel together.
Page 1 of 4 – Read page 2 to find out about kids ages 9-11.
Ages 9 to 11
By the age of nine, your child's relationship with his teacher or bullying by other kids are the two most likely sources of the I-hate-school blues.
If your child complains about her teacher, take her concerns seriously. Teacher-child conflicts are real and shouldn't be dismissed as trivial or part of the growing-up process. Try to find out what exactly is affecting your child's relationship with her teacher. Does he have a loud voice that she finds frightening? Is she in a big class and her teacher has to be very strict to maintain order? Or do the two of them just not like each other?
When the relationship with the teacher is the problem, it becomes personal and it's difficult for a parent to deal with. But you need to talk honestly with the teacher about how she feels so that you can work together to resolve the problem. If your child spends five-and-a-half hours a day in a small room with a person she dislikes and who may dislike her, very little learning can occur.
At the meeting with the teacher, be prepared to listen to a different version of the situation–your child may have neglected to tell you that she's been disruptive in class. Ask the teacher what he can do to help your child feel more comfortable. Follow up the meeting with a friendly note outlining the discussion and conclude with a suggested date for talking again in a couple of weeks.
"My teacher was always yelling, even if you didn't do anything bad. Like, she'd yell at you if you didn't get an answer right. Right before school I always felt kinda sick. Sometimes I'd get a stomachache. I think it was an excuse to stay home."
– Mike, age 10
Over the next week or two, watch for signs of change. If your child appears happier, let the teacher know at your next meeting. If not, discuss what other strategies the teacher and the child might pursue to improve their relationship. If there is no improvement over the next week or two and your child still complains about school, contact the principal. You may need to request that he arrange to transfer your child to another classroom.
Page 2 of 4 – Read page 3 to learn about your child and bullies.
If your child arrives home with unexplained mud- or grass-stained clothing, if he's frequently "losing" toys or he's often ravenous as if he hasn't eaten all day (his lunch was stolen), you may well suspect that your child is being harassed by another student or students.
"I stayed home a lot and got so sick about how another boy was treating me at school that I would throw up before I had to leave my house. I'm not the target anymore, but things are not the same at school. I still don't feel comfortable."
– Mark, age 12
Talk to him about what goes on at school. Ask what he does at recess or lunch hour. Whom does he play with? Is anyone nice to him? Is anyone mean to him? Try not to show anger in your child's defence. Put your energy into comforting and helping him. Talk to the parents of other children in the class or at the school. Find out if other students have had a similar problem. You need to know how widespread the problem is, and it may take some discussion to get the full story.
Kids are not always keen to have their parents involved in their problems with other kids. Your child may be afraid of retaliation if he tells you what's happening. But if your child doesn't want to go to school because other children call him names, threaten him, kick him, or steal his lunch, you need to inform the principal immediately. Being victimized by other kids can have a devastating effect on your child's self-esteem and make it impossible for him to learn at school.
Tell the principal what you understand is happening and ask if she has any insight into the situation. Ask her to investigate and let you know how she'll deal with the situation. In most provinces, the education legislation gives the principal the authority to maintain order and discipline in the school, so she has somewhat broad powers. The school might opt to arrange counselling for the aggressors, or to punish them by cancelling privileges, or to suspend them. If the problem continues during the first two steps, discuss the situation with the principal immediately. The school officials must deal even more seriously with any further aggressive act.
Some schools have programs for conflict resolution run by students themselves with the help of their teachers or consultants who have developed expertise in this area. Encourage your child's principal to start a conflict-resolution program. It can be as simple as discussing it regularly at Home and School meetings, creating a peer-mediation program, or involving students in role-playing games that teach them appropriate social behaviours.
Teach your child to speak out against bullying. Assure him that he is not a tattletale if he reports when someone is getting hurt by another person. If you discover that your child is the bully, teach her to talk out problems instead of resorting to aggression. Teaching her to take a time-out from a situation or to count to ten to calm down could make a big
Page 3 of 4 – Find useful tips for tweens on page 4.
The social scene
For senior elementary students, friendship or the lack of it is the Number One cause of problems. Being left out of or dropped by a group can upset your child and make her anxious or depressed.
Contact your kid's classroom teacher or a guidance counsellor if the school has one, and let him know how your child feels. Ask for his advice and insight into the situation. He may be able to help just by talking with your child and steering her into a school activity with other like-minded kids.
• Help your child find a sport, hobby, or club outside of school that will introduce her to other young people with similar interests.
• Go shopping. No, you don't want your child to think that making friends means wearing the "in" labels. But having the right hair style, the right clothes, the right look is very important to twelve-year-olds. Let your preteen choose some cool-looking clothes that fit the family budget.
• If friendship and the lack of it continues to be a problem, talk to your child about choosing a different high school from the one in the neighbourhood, a high school where she'll be able to get a fresh start.
Going to a new school
Before your child's first day at a new school, you can make the transition go a little smoother.
• Visit the school as often as you can before the first day of classes. Attend school plays, band concerts, or fun fairs that offer your child a sneak peek at what's to come. The grade eight play may not look polished to you, but a six-year-old will be dazzled by the stars on stage.
• Let an older brother or sister give a personal tour of the school hot spots outside of the classroom. The tour should include such things as water fountains, washrooms, and the school yard.
• One week before classes begin, drop by the school and introduce yourself and your child to the principal, the school office staff, and his new teacher.
Page 4 of 4
Excerpted from Raising Great Kids by Christine Langlois. Copyright 1999 by Telemedia Communications Inc. Excerpted, with permission from Christine Langlois. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.