Some kids just LOVE school. They love writing and doing math and having all their notebooks organized. They love reading.
Not all kids. Not your kid?
What do you say to your child when they say they hate going to school?
Well, first off, DON’T ignore them or make fun of them. Find out what’s going on, let them know you understand how they feel and then help them figure out some ways to make things better.
Have a conversation with your child by following these 3 steps. You might not do this all at once. If you can, have a heart-to-heart with your child, without distractions. If not, do it on the fly in stages. Sometimes a little time between chats gives you some ideas and gives your child time to reflect.
Step 1: Ask Questions
Get curious and play detective by asking your child some questions to find out more.
You: What do you hate about school?.
Get your child to be specific. Encourage them to speak frankly. You should listen more than you talk. That’s parent gold by the way, when your kid actually talks to you and shares their thoughts and feelings. Believe me, there’s “little gold up there in them older years”.
Why is the “Ask Questions” step so important?
There are many different reasons kids dislike or genuinely hate school. Your job is to see if you can narrow it down. Even if you’re pretty sure you know, get the nuts and bolts…the real deal.
Is it a social issue, like friendships or even bullying? Is it a certain teacher your child can’t relate to or just has a personality clash with? Is it a specific subject that’s creating stress for them? Is it the homework, or just having to sit still for much of the day?
Before going on to the next step, try narrowing the problem down by asking questions. If you keep getting “I don’t know.” or vague answers, try to dig deeper. Let your child know that you really want to help, and that by answering your questions, there may be a way to make things better.
Step 2: Validate your Child’s Feelings
Once you’ve played detective a bit, be sure to acknowledge your child’s feelings. This step is super important!
If they say, “I just hate having to do work all the time. School’s too hard, and it’s boring! All day I’m reading or writing, and we hardly ever get gym class.”…
-You don’t hate school.
-It’s too bad you hate school. It’s important, and you’ll have to figure out a way to like it.
-Without school, you can’t get a proper education, and without a proper education, you’ll never get a good job or be able to take care of yourself as an adult.
-Don’t whine to me about school…again. Deal with it.
-Tough luck buddy. You think school’s tough? Wait till you start working for a living.
These kinds of comments just send the message that you don’t get it, and you don’t understand. To your child, you’re just another adult who has to say those things.
Instead, restate their feelings or try to connect their feelings to how you’ve felt.
DO acknowledge what your child is feeling. Start by letting your child know that it’s OK to feel the way they do. Try beginning with something like this:
-It’s hard working for most of the day; I agree. I get tired of working all day too.
-That’s too bad you don’t have gym as often as you’d like.
-I’m sorry to hear you’re not enjoying school. You’re right that it can sometimes be boring or challenging.
-You know what? It’s perfectly ok if you don’t like school. We all have to do things we don’t like. At my job, I don’t enjoy doing paperwork for my boss, but it’s just part of what I have to do. I can’t really change the situation. I get it. I’m sorry to hear you’re not enjoying school, but it’s ok if you don’t like it.
It’s important for kids to know there’s nothing wrong with their feelings. It’s what they do with their feelings that counts.
Once you’ve validated your child’s feelings, it’s much more likely they’ll listen to what you have to say. If you ignore or dismiss their feelings, they won’t buy in to what you have to say. They’ll just think you don’t get it.
All right, if you’ve read this far, you think you might have a chance with steps 1 and 2. Awesome! Let’s move on to the last step (it has a few parts).
Step 3: Help your Child Solve the Problem
At this stage, you may be itching to solve this problem for your child. You don’t want them to hate school. You want them to be happy! I get it. We LOVE our kids and want to help them.
Don’t solve the problem…help your child solve it.
If kids figure out how to solve their own problems, with your guidance, there’s more buy-in from them. They’re more likely to make changes in their thinking or behavior. They’re more likely to have high self-esteem, knowing they can handle things. Yay!
If you take over and solve their problems for them, kids learn they aren’t capable of handling things on their own, which actually contributes to low self-esteem (definitely not our intention, but true).
How can you help your child solve their problem about hating school?
a) Provide guiding questions. Here’s an example:
You: So, you said school is boring for you. What specifically is boring?
-“I already know all the math we’re doing.”
-“I hate reading. I want to play basketball in the gym.”
-“We’re studying electricity. It’s sooooo boring!”
-“It’s just not fun. We have to be quiet, and we work all the time.”
You: Can you think of anything you can do to make school less boring and more fun?
-“No. The teachers make us do the work. I can’t do anything.”
You: Have you told your teacher you’re bored?
-“No. What can he do anyway?”
You: You never know until you try. Remember, we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it.
You could try to talk to your teacher to see if there’s something you could do, so school isn’t boring for you. If you and the teacher can’t figure out a solution, then the only thing you can change is what’s in your head…your attitude about school.
Hear me out: If you walk around all day thinking ‘I hate school’, then guess what? You’re going to hate school. If, instead, you wake up, and decide to feel happy and look forward to to seeing your friends at school, and you just decide you don’t hate school, you’ll actually feel better.
Did you know that when you think negatively, it makes you feel worse? Negative thinking can even lead to you getting sick more often. Not fun right?
I know it doesn’t sound like it could work, but if you try to look at school differently, you can actually feel better! I challenge you to try it for a week. Changing your attitude doesn’t change what happens in school, but it does change your head space. Are you willing to try it for one week?
b) Explore possible solutions
If an attitude adjustment isn’t welcomed, or if your positive-approach challenge backfires, talk to your child about possible solutions. Can they think of any solution? It’s OK to discuss fantasy solutions.
Chatting helps your child work through their feelings.
What are the options? Not going to school? Likely not, but by having a real conversation about their concerns, they feel heard. In the end, your child might see that if no solution can be found, they’ll have to find another way to deal with their negative feelings about school.
Here are some ideas for possible solutions you and your child could discuss:
- Not go to school at all. Not get educated.
- Get in trouble from the government who says kids have to go to school until age 16.
- Get home schooled. Probably not an option if a parent can’t stay home to do that.
- Get a private teacher/tutor. Also pretty unlikely due to the high cost of that option.
- Change schools. That is an option that could work if it seems to be the school or the dynamics of the kids in the grade that appears to be the problem.
c) Accept the situation
For most people, those options won’t work, but your child has seen that you’ve taken the time to work through the problem, looking for solutions.
Now’s a good time to talk with your child about the kind of feeling they want to carry in their heart with them, day after day, at school. Negative, sad feelings? Positive, happy feelings?
If it hasn’t come up yet, this is also a good time to teach your child that they can’t control what happens to them (school), but they CAN control how they react to it (attitude/perspective).
What we think about is the world we live in. Our whole world lives between our ears. Powerful stuff!
Work with your child to find ways to overcome negative thinking. This is an important life lesson because there are always going to be situations in life your child dislikes (specific teacher, university professor, a boss at a job etc.).
Teach your child that when we’re in a situation we don’t like, we can either take action to change it, or we have to accept it. If they hate school and can’t change the situation, they’ll have to accept it, but… they can take control of how they feel by changing their thoughts.
Let’s recap the steps to follow when your child says they hate going to school.
Step 1: Ask questions
Step 2: Validate your child’s feelings
Step 3: Help your child solve the problem
a) Provide guiding questions
b) Explore possible solutions
c) Accept the situation
By working through the above steps, your child is unlikely to suddenly love school, but they have a better chance of thinking differently about school.
Maybe they’ll dislike school instead of hating it, and they may complain to you a bit less. Wouldn’t that alone be worth it?
If all your efforts fall short…well, hang in there, and start counting down the years!
Wishing you joy, strength and balance,