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How You Know Your Kid Is in the Wrong School

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My son was miserable in Kindergarten. For me this was a hard pill to swallow because I loved Kindergarten as a kid. I couldn’t imagine not loving school and couldn’t imagine my son not loving it either. He had always relished every moment of pre-school, and never had even a moment’s difficulty separating. I assumed he was just having a hard time getting used to the transition from pre-school to Kindergarten.

As the year progressed I saw my happy, enthusiastic learner, who always had a lot of friends and varied interests, disappear in front of my eyes. The boy who loved school now hated it. He became sad, anxious, worried, nervous and terrified. While I feared that my son just wasn’t elementary school material, deep down inside I knew that my son wasn’t the problem. His school was.

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So my husband and I quickly sprung into action. We had seen other parents wait to see if their child was just having a bad year versus their child being in the wrong school. We decided a child as young as our son shouldn’t be miserable even for a year. We made the choice to do whatever we had to do to move him to another school.

For first grade, we were able to switch our son to a fantastic school with a much different, kinder approach to academics. Within days we saw our happy, enthusiastic learner return. And while my son started this year worried about switching schools, he finished his first day with a thank you. “Thank you Mommy,” he said. “You made a good choice.”

There is nothing more important we can do for our children than give them the love of learning.

Now that I see what it’s like to have a child happy to go to school, I can’t imagine having let him suffer one more year at the wrong school. And while the decision of where we send our kids to school is complex, there is nothing more important we can do for our children than give them the love of learning. That involves loving going to school.

A number of my friends have asked me how I knew my son needed to change schools and not just wait for a better year. Here’s some of the questions I asked myself and the honest answers that followed.

1. Does Your Child Seem Like His or Her Self at School?

My son had always been a happy, energetic kid who fit in with most groups. So it came as a total shock the first, second and third time I volunteered on campus and saw that my son was totally different at school. The comfortable, fun-loving guy had been replaced by a nervous kid who seemed lost and lonely. I could only imagine how he felt at school if this is how he acted.

2. Is Your Child Changing Behavior at Home?

My son became incredibly anxious in a school he hated and exhibited this by biting his nails and curling his toes, among other nervous habits he developed. But when he started having night terrors, tantrums and was terrified of making mistakes to the point of paralysis, I couldn’t pretend he was just a little nervous. My son was clearly in crisis and so were we.

3. Has Your Child Started Worrying About Safety?

Being miserable in school caused my son to fear school. He didn’t feel comfortable there and worried that bad things were going to happen to him there. Now my son regularly comments that he feels safe at school. That’s quite the opposite of last year.

4. Do You See Your Child in His or Her Peers?

My son made friends last year, but still never felt like he fit in. Turns out he was right. The kids were nice, just different from him. I knew if he stayed at that school, even if he had a better year the next year, he’d grow up feeling like an outlier. I wanted him at school around kids with whom he felt comfortable, not different.

5. Are Your Child’s Problems Going to Go With Them to Another School?

You want to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, not experimenting and hoping for the best.

It’s easy to blame the school for all of a child’s problem, but for some kids their issues are going to travel with them no matter where they go to school. For us, our son just needed a different environment and a differently teaching philosophy. But some kids need support and intervention no matter where they go to school. Before you blame the school and make a switch, make sure you’re addressing all of your child’s needs. Changing schools and making new friends isn’t easy. You want to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, not experimenting and hoping for the best.

6. Is Your Child Struggling to Keep Up, Socially And/Or Academically?

There are some school years that will be tougher on our kids than others, both in regards to academics and in regards to friendships. But if the overall expectations and teaching philosophy of school makes your child feel like he or she is struggling to keep up, there’s probably a better environment that won’t make your kid feel like he or she starts in last place. The same can be said for socializing. If your kid doesn’t fit, find a place where she will.

7. Do You Like the Way the Teachers and Administrators Engage With Your Child?

One of the things that made my son so anxious last year was the style in which the administration and teachers talked to, taught, dealt with and disciplined the kids. Their style was very old fashioned and punitive and made my son terrified all the time. I can’t blame him. I hated that, too.

8. Would You Have Wanted to Go to School Where Your Child Goes to School?

It’s easy to look at a school’s grassy field, smart boards, music program or foreign language elective and think, “What kid wouldn’t want that?” But at heart, I think kids could care less about all the bells and whistles a school may or may/not have to offer. If your kid is like my kid, all they want are kind teachers and kind students. So it’s important to ignore all the flash a school may or may/not have and ask yourself if you would have been happy at your child’s age in your child’s school. Your child is probably a lot like you and probably learns a lot like you did. If you wouldn’t have been happy there, chances are neither will she.

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There is nothing more debilitating for a mother than to see her child unhappy. So if your child is unhappy in school and you think it might be a bigger problem than them having just a bad year, you owe it to them and to yourself to make a change. And while it might mean a further drive, a tuition payment you hadn’t anticipate or the fear of the unknown, it’s a small price to pay compared to one more moment when your child hates school.

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