Mommy, I hate school! What’s a parent to do?

Spinach and broccoli are supposedly good for you, so we encourage our kids to eat them—often with moderate or no success. Likewise, kids are supposed to stomach a dozen or more years of schooling. Although you may be able to force your kid to eat spinach or broccoli, learning is a bigger challenge. When your child whines about school—and maybe even refuses to go—you need to find a fine line between figuring out the problem and not overreacting. As your child gets older, hating school can lead to skipping class or even dropping out. Here are some ways to deal with the problem:

  • Make sure the complaint is persistent. If your child complains only once, it could be the result of a bad day or an unpleasant interaction with the teacher. It’s normal to have an occasional bad day, but if your child refuses to attend school, then you have a problem.
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  • Ask questions. Get your child to open up by asking questions like: What do you hate about school? What happened?
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  • Talk to your child’s teacher if it involves a classroom issue. Ask for the teacher’s opinion and find out if he or she has any suggestions. Sometimes it’s as simple as a child feeling left out.
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  • Take an active interest in what’s happening in your child’s class. If you act like you’re not interested, it could send the message that school is a low priority.

Once you discover the real reason behind the whines, you may be surprised. Children can be miserable in school because of social, learning or anxiety issues—and these don’t just go away. Once you understand what’s really going on, you can help them overcome these obstacles. And while it’s not unusual for children to test you to see if you’ll cave in and let them play hooky once in awhile, it’s quite different if they habitually balk at going to school or seem genuinely fearful or anxious about it. Especially during the grade-school years, kids typically display refusal behaviors for three, main reasons:

  1. They feel at risk socially—rejected, ostracized or ignored by their peers. They may perceive the school environment as being lonely, uncomfortable or threatening. It’s tough when you’re 7 years old and you feel unaccepted and different from the other kids. If your child consistently complains that other kids don’t like her, check it out further. Ask the teacher about other children your child seems to get along with. Does she have a special friend to sit with at lunch, or is she alone? Does she hang out with other kids at recess? If not, your child is legitimately feeling lonely and sad.
    Fortunately, during the grade-school years, it’s still possible to help create and cement social relationships for your child. Encourage the teacher to pair her with another child, or jumpstart friendships by inviting classmates to your home to play after school or on weekends. Get to know the other parents; some are probably trying to help their kids establish friendships as well. Also, check out organizations like the Cub Scouts and Brownies, sports teams, or chorus and band. Kids with similar interests tend to get along well since their mutual experience facilitates the conversation.
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  3. They feel academically inferior. When kids make an error in class that results in teasing, they may start to wonder if they’re stupid. It’s humiliating to answer a question incorrectly when 20 other kids are witnessing your unsatisfactory performance. Here’s where a little assessment and remediation can help. Consult with your child’s teacher or guidance counselor to get information on achievement testing. After you understand the nature and causes of the weak areas, explore tutoring options, both at school and privately. If your child’s testing meets certain criteria, he should be eligible for special programs that provide individualized instruction to bring his knowledge, grades and skills up to par.
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  5. They may be physically uncomfortable. Kids who are active or hyperactive get a little uncomfortable when they are expected to sit in a classroom for several hours. It seems like teachers are constantly reminding them to stay in their seats, focus on their work or keep their hands to themselves.
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Worried that your young child’s whining about another day at school may be serious? Or perhaps your child is just trying to see if you’ll let him play hooky? Share your stories. This is an issue that every parents faces—at least once. Go to www.http://drlowenstein.com/ and click on Ask Dr. Dave.