When Your Child Hates School

angry boy at school

Ask any parent what the most challenging part of their day is and most of them will say the morning, especially if they have more than one child. Getting everybody ready and out the door to school and work on time is a difficult enough job; if you have a child that battles with you every morning over going to school, your task becomes one that would make even the most efficient world leader or diplomat cringe.

The Source of School-Related Reluctance

It’s pretty common knowledge that most kids don’t cheer at that thought of school. Ask the majority of kids what their favorite subject is and, with a cheeky smile, they’ll say recess. Mornings are to be dreaded and all manner of bribery is used to convince the parent to let them stay home. Sandra, a 30-year-old mom from Illinois has heard it all from her 10-year-old son. “He has tried to pretend he was sick. He’ll cry, tell me how much he hates school, and hide his uniform.”

As adults, we don’t exactly face mornings, especially Monday mornings, with bells on and we have the added incentive of a paycheck.

Some kids could warm to their responsibility of going to school if all that entailed was going to a place where they could hang out with their friends. They could do without the whole academic business. Most kids see school as a necessary evil to be tolerated and at least tempered by having fun with kids their own age.

For some kids, school is genuinely intolerable. They may have started out liking school, but you start to notice that lately, they are reluctant to go. Their behavior seems to more than just the novelty of school wearing off and being unhappy that the fun and games of early years have given way to tests and homework. They claim stomach aches. They don’t like talking about school. You may notice their mood changes. They seem to actually be afraid to go to school. These changes may be warning signs that you need to pay attention to, especially if they come on suddenly. They may be a signal that something is going on with your child that is more than his just not liking schoolwork.

teacher talking to young student

Understand the Signs and Respond

Try to gently draw out your child to tell you why he doesn’t like going to school. Explain that school is necessary and non-negotiable, but maybe if he would tell you why he doesn’t like it you could find ways to make his time at school easier.

Sandra continues, “He has ADHD and he has trouble with reading. We've talked to the teacher. Now the class is not required to read aloud during class. He also works with our son one on one after school. I have also started a reward chart. If he goes to school every day without problems, he gets a marble to add to a jar. Every marble is worth 30 minutes. He can choose between video games, TV, and movies.”

The schoolyard environment seems to be changing dramatically with every passing year. Teasing and bullying seem to have escalated to physical fights even including weapons, not only between boys but between girls too. Add to that the old mainstays like cliques, and is it any wonder some kids dread going to school?

Sometimes this dread will actually manifest physically with stomach aches and headaches. If you notice a sudden increase in your child’s physical complaints, consider that he could be having a hard time at school. This was the case for Ericka, a 32-year-old mom of a 12-year-old girl from Fort Gordon, Georgia. Her daughter’s dislike of school just came on suddenly. “She has just been miserable lately.” When Ericka wanted to know why her daughter explained that “Those kids are mean to her and that she doesn't like the school period. I have gone up to the school and had a talk to the assistant principal to see what can be done about kids being mean and stuff like that.”

In a lot of cases, teachers are overworked and this makes it hard to give attention to individual students so that if your child is going through a hard time either academically or socially, his teacher might not notice until you bring it to their attention. Make an effort to get involved in your child’s school and keep an open dialogue with their teacher so that you can both share concerns and ways to help your child.

sad girl with backpack

If your child is shy and withdrawn, she may have trouble making friends and be an easy target for bullies. You could try maybe enrolling them in after-school or weekend activities as a way to boost their confidence so that this confidence makes them more outgoing at school. Just like in adulthood, confidence draws people to each other and friendships in school are vital to a child’s growth and self-esteem.

Your child may have trouble adjusting to the differences between his school life and his home life. You have certain rules in your house in regards to language and what behavior is acceptable. The schoolyard has become a much rougher place these days, and your child may feel like he has to behave one way to fit in with his schoolmates and one way to not get in trouble at home. Annette, a 43-year-old mom from Lake Stevens, WA found that her son had a very difficult time adjusting to the very separate worlds of school and home. “He liked school when he was younger, but it was hard to make friends. He wouldn't care about missing school if he was sick. There’s a lot of cursing throughout the building on a daily basis, lunchtime, and on the bus as well. He tries to ignore the bad language all day, but it's getting hard.”

The main thing to remember is that while school is a necessity, you can work with your child’s teacher and your child himself while respecting his feelings to help make school an enjoyable experience.