When Kids Hate School
Just about every kid says he hates school at some point in his academic career. And what kid wouldn’t rather be sailing down a hill in a wagon on a beautiful fall day, like school-hating Calvin from the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons, rather than working the brain in a classroom.
But if your child is a confirmed school-hater, you may need to look a little deeper than the fact that she’d just rather hang out on the couch in her jammies and watch Sponge Bob.
Consider the Age
“It’s important to consider age first,” said Ann Greenwood, Ph.D. psychologist with Tulsa Family Developmental Center. “With younger children, hating school can just be due to the newness of it and the inexperience—not knowing what to expect. They also may be experiencing separation anxiety from being away from mom. These kinds of issues usually show up at the beginning of the school year and can be worked out between parents and teachers.” She added that stomach aches and headaches are common ways for anxiety to be expressed in young children.
“Social anxiety and anxiety over being evaluated (through tests and grades) are commonly the cause when older children hate school,” Greenwood said, adding that boredom can also be a factor. “I think some kids do get bored and some schools don’t challenge children enough. However,” she cautioned, “‘I’m bored’ can be a catch-all phrase. Sometimes children say “I’m bored” when they don’t know how to express what they are really feeling.”
So, “I’m bored” could mean “I’m sad,” “I’m lonely,” or even “I’m tired.”
Family Stress as a Factor
Greenwood encourages parents to take a look at stressors within the family when children are having school difficulties. Has the family recently moved? Is the child starting a new school? Has there been a death in the family or the birth of a new baby? Is there marital discord? She added that both uninvolved parents and over-involved parents can increase a child’s anxiety and affect a child’s attitude about school. “It can get really complicated,” Greenwood said.
Since school resistance and anxiety are often closely linked, helping your child manage stress is an important first step. Make sure she is eating right, getting enough sleep, and getting exercise. Additionally, Paige Whelan, quality enhancement coordinator for the Childcare Resource Center recommends:
• Scheduling: Children cope better when things are predictable. Keep family mealtimes and family rituals—especially bedtime rituals such as a calming bath, bedtime reading with mom or dad, and snuggles.
• Keep Your Cool: Children respond to parent’s stress. If marital problems are the source of your child’s anxiety, seek help through counseling. Even if you think you are not letting on, children can sense tension.
• The importance of touch: Hold a hand, put a hand on a shoulder, get down on eye level and ask, “What’s going on?” Let them know that you unconditionally love them. Take a break and hold your child if that is what he or she needs.
• Use feeling words: Teach your child to express feelings verbally. Sometimes kids are embarrassed to say what is really bothering them or don’t know how to put their feelings into words. Helping them match feeling states with words can be helpful.
Additionally, Greenwood has seen children improve when they take part in enriching extracurricular activities. “Help them find some kind of activity that they can do that they really enjoy,” she said.
Whether it is a dance class, a sports team, drama, bird watching, computers, or swimming, she encourages parents to look for activities that spark their child’s imagination and help them feel “confident and capable.”
When Resistance Persists
If school resistance persists, Greenwood encourages parents to stay in communication with their child’s teacher and school counselor “You need to make sure your child is doing the work–keeping up academically,” Greenwood said. “Also, assess your child’s social interactions. Is bullying possibly going on?”
If, after working with the school, the resistance continues, Greenwood suggests seeking help from an outside source.
“The sooner you seek help, the more favorable the outcome,” she said. “Counseling doesn’t have to be a long-term endeavor.” “Even if the parent just seeks counseling a time or two to get some ideas, it can be helpful.”
Depending on the source of the problem, counseling can help with such things as social skills, assertiveness, relaxation skills or cognitive/behavioral techniques.
Involved Parents Means Happier Kids
Above all, Greenwood stressed the importance of parental involvement in the child’s school. “When parents take part in the process,” Greenwood said,” “they model the message that learning is fun.”
Ways to be involved
- Visit your child’s classroom. A visit will give you an idea of what your child does at school and how he or she interacts with other children.
- Volunteer to help in the classroom as an assistant. Listen to children read, for example, or serve as an aide for a couple of hours.
- Support student events and performances by helping with them (such as sewing costumes or painting scenery for a school play) and by attending them.
- If your school has a parent center, drop in to meet other parents there or to pick up information and materials.
- Participate in workshops that are offered, such as those on child development or concerns that parents have (or help plan such workshops).
- Take advantage of parent-teacher contracts (perhaps agreeing to read with your child for a certain amount of time each night).
- Ask your child’s teacher if he or she has materials that you can use to help your child at home and to supplement homework.
- Be part of decision-making committees about school issues and problems.
- Make choices, when available, about the classes, programs, or even schools your child attends.
- Stay aware of your child’s progress compared to other students.