When Your Child Doesn't Like School

All too often we are giving our young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.
—John W. Gardner

The reality is that some kids just don’t like school. At times the “fit” between teacher and student is not a good one. Children may struggle to find acceptance among peers. Learning disabilities can pose significant barriers to gaining a traditional education for some children. Many other reasons can factor into a child’s dislike of school.

The good news is that there are things you can do as a parent to help the child who dislikes school make the most of the educational process.

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
  • Help your child make friends among her preschool or kindergarten classmates so that school becomes a friendly place to spend time. Let her invite a special friend over for a play date or dinner. If making friends is hard for her, try connecting with parents of her classmates to encourage a “whole family” friendship.

  • Reading to your young child does more to develop curiosity and a love of learning than anything else—so read, read, read! Take turns reading simple words (and sentences) aloud when your child begins to recognize letter combinations and their sounds.
  • If you can spend time watching your child’s interactions at preschool or child care, you’ll be able to monitor his exposure to noise and activity levels, and evaluate his need for individual attention. Spending time in your child’s daily environment is a good investment of your time.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Parent-teacher conferences are so important. This is the time when you can ask specific questions about your child’s reaction to and participation in school activities. If you are unable to attend, be sure to communicate with teachers by phone or e-mail.
    • School should feel safe to children. If your child is being teased or bullied—in the classroom, on the playground, or to and from school—be sure to talk to your child’s teacher. Great resources are available for teachers and parents to work through bullying issues, so speak up as soon as you believe this is an issue.
    • Learning disabilities and difficulties with reading, writing, or math assignments can make children feel “dumb” or “lost.” If your child dislikes school for these reasons, ask her teacher for tutoring recommendations, appropriate testing, or modifications that allow assignments to be completed at home.
    • Some kids complain of boredom in the classroom. If this is the case, talk with your child and his teacher about enriching assignments to add more challenge. Ask for opportunities that add rigor and depth to your child’s education, and look for mentors and tutors who can help him delve more deeply into subjects that he loves.
    • Get to know school administrators in the building by volunteering, communicating with them by phone or e-mail, and greeting them in person when you see them. If your child has a problem or concern later on, you can fall back on the relationships you have already established with school leaders who can probably help mediate the situation.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Check in often with your teen or preteen about particular facets of school that are not going well. Kids need to feel safe and supported. Teasing and bullying do not end in grade school. You may have to become actively involved to ensure your child feels safe.
    • Kids often try to handle things on their own and may be reluctant to talk with parents about their problems. The lives of teens and preteens change with dizzying speed, so you’ll have to ask questions if you want to stay up-to-date. Make time to connect over a favorite meal, in the car, or on a walk so that the conversation can flow into what’s really going on.
    • Ask your child about new subjects being introduced in school. Look and listen for signs of interests that fire his imagination—and then help him learn more. Boredom is often the key to a child’s dislike of school.
    • Inform or remind teachers at conferences of your child’s unique interests and hobbies. Ask about ways that these interests can be woven into her schooling.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Encourage your teenager to help you identify at least one school adult who can be your family’s “ally” as she moves through high school. High schools are often so large that students and parents can feel intimidated. Having a contact person who knows the system can be a great deal of help.
    • If your teen is really struggling, contact school district leaders about education alternatives such as smaller learning communities, open enrollment in other schools or other districts, on-line learning, and other academic options. Traditional high schools aren’t for everyone, and trying something else can be the right step to take.
  • Remember to make regular time for conversations with your teen whenever you have the opportunity—over weekend pancakes, on the way to school, while running or biking together—so that you can really listen to what’s going on.

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