By: Michele Timmons
I have spent more than 20 years working in education as a teacher, school administrator, and educational consultant. I have worked closely with principals, teachers, parents and youth to make school a better place for kids, but I often meet young people who tell me how much they HATE school. When this occurs, I try to find the root of their strong feelings. From my research and experience, I have found that there are four main reasons why kids don’t like school.
1. The way the information is taught isn’t interesting or engaging to the young person.
2. The school (staff) isn’t meeting the child’s individual learning needs.
3. There is a hostile environment in the school or classroom.
4. The child is socially disconnected at school.
However, if you see changes in behavior such as a decrease in grades, detentions, or office referrals from teachers, or you have trouble getting your kids to go to school, stay at school, or even if you start to notice a surge in unexplained illnesses, there may be a real problem. Here are 8 tips to help your child if she says she hates school.
1. Get to the heart of the matter by finding the root cause for your child’s feelings. Set aside some time to have a one-on-one conversation with your child about school. Ask open ended questions to learn more about what they really like and dislike about school. The most important role parents play in this conversation is that of an active listener. Now is the time to really hear what your child has to say and not give your opinions. Once you have an idea as to which reason(s) are behind your child’s feelings then it is easier to begin brainstorming solutions.
2. Meet with your child’s teacher(s) and discuss your child's concerns. The best way to do this is to address the concerns in a positive manner. Together with the teacher brainstorm strategies for making the school or classroom experience more positive.
3. Encourage your child to take a learning style inventory and then share the info with your child's teacher. This helps the teacher learn a little bit more about what makes your child “tick”. Education World actually created a lesson plan for teachers to help them learn how to use learning style inventories in the classroom. You can do it with your child at home, or the teacher might do it with the whole class. Either way, it’s a great opportunity to learn what sparks your child’s interests.
4. Share your child’s sparks with his or her teacher(s). The special ability or interest kids have is their spark. Teachers can work with approximately 25 to 200 kids every day and it can be a challenge to learn what makes every child tick. Most teachers really want their classes to be relevant to their students, so the more you share; the easier it is for the teacher to tap into those interests during class.
[Related: Attend a free webinar this September to learn more about the importance of nurturing your child's sparks.]
5. Jeremy Schneider, author and family therapist, suggests one way to help kids is to try to find specific parts of the day they enjoy and celebrate those times. Find out if there is a certain time of day that is more difficult for your child than others. One parent told me that when she and the teacher met, they discovered that afternoons were the hardest time for her 7-year-old. Given this information, Mom and the teacher came up with a solution. They agreed that Mom would call him every day right after lunch and give him a quick pep talk to help him get through the rest of his day. It took four months, but in the end this strategy worked!
6. If your child has specific learning needs (gifted, learning disability, 504 Plan, ADD, etc.) and there is a plan in place for your child, staff are legally responsible to follow the plan. If the plan is not being followed, the teacher(s) or school may be in violation of state or federal laws. Ask the teacher if she is aware of the plan and provide a copy if needed. If problems continue, ask the school guidance counselor, social worker or principal to intervene. National Association of Parents with Children in Special Education (NAPCSE) and National Association for Gifted Children offer amazing resources to help parents better understand our rights and how to advocate for our children.
If you believe your child has a specific learning need but is not currently receiving services or supports, you can request additional help. Ask the teacher, counselor, or social worker to help you refer your child for help. While schools use different names for the process, all schools are mandated to have a process to identify children with specific learning needs. Whether the academics are too rigorous or not rigorous enough, the school is required to identify and support children with special needs. If you ask for assistance at the school and don’t receive it, call the district’s administrative office and request a meeting with the administrator in charge of students with special needs.
7. Sometimes, kids say they hate school because they are bullied. If your child believes he or she is being bullied, step one is to identify if the "bullying" that is happening is actually bullying, or if it can be categorized as something else, like developmentally appropriate conflict. Learn more about how to do that here. It's important to recognize that some amount of conflict is normal in our children's everyday lives, and it's our jobs, as adults, to raise resilient kids who can rise above difficult social situations.
If you have identified that your child is, in fact, being bullied and the situation is dangerous or life-threatening, it's important to take action. Most states now have anti-bullying laws and schools are mandated to intervene. Check out Three Simple Ways Parents Can Stop Bullying for more ideas.
8. Many children hate school because they have few or no social connections. They truly believe no one cares or even notices they exist. If this is your child’s concern, talk to the principal, a counselor, or social worker and ask them to identify an adult at school who will check in on your child daily and build a relationship. Many schools will also identify a student who has similar interests or schedules and ask them to be a buddy for your child. Also consider enrolling your child in an after school program, club, or athletics. This is a great way to make friends and feel connected to school.
All parents want our children to be happy, healthy, and resilient. So when our kids tell us they hate school, we want to do something to make it better. Most often, by trying one or more of these strategies, you will be able to resolve the concern. However, there are occasions when nothing seems to work. In this case I recommend talking to school or district administration about changing your child’s schedule. Sometimes a new set of classes eliminates many problems. If that doesn’t work, ask if there are other schools your child can attend. Many districts offer open enrollment where your child can attend a different school in the district or another community. There might even be a charter school in your area that will better meet your child’s needs.
If you have exhausted all avenues or if you believe mental health issues are at the heart of your child’s problem ask your school or family doctor for a referral to a mental health professional. WebMD has a great article on how to find a therapist. If you have a serious concern or think your child may be considering harming herself or others, contact a suicide hotline or call 911.
Try some of these strategies and let me know how they work for your family. Also, if you have other suggestions for supporting kids when they say they hate school, I’d love to hear them too.________________________________________________________________________
1. Baby Center Article: My child's schoolwork isn't challenging her and she says she's bored. What should I do?
2. Tips for active listening from Stephen Duncan: Listening to Children with Head and Heart
3. ParentFurther.com: Reaching Out to Your Child’s Teacher
4. For positive strategies for addressing concerns, check out Sam Horn's book, Tongue Fu® at School!
6. Search Institute: Sparks: How to Get Started