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What to Do When Your Kid Hates School

Believe it or not, a lot of kids experience school refusal (or attempted school refusal, anyway). What this means is that they really, really don't want to go.

While school can be a lot of fun (Friends! Recess! Messy art!), it can also be stressful. When parents call me with concerns about a child who hates school, they're often convinced it's because of a teacher or another student. Surely something in the classroom is to blame, right?

Not always.

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Adults think of school as a place where kids are constantly interacting with other kids and having fun while learning something. Sure, that can be the case. But we tend to look at school through rose-colored glasses. Adults face financial stress, work stress, relationship stress and any number of other stressors. How bad can elementary school possibly be in comparison to a house that leaks in 10 new places each time it rains?

What we need to keep in mind, though, is that kids experience kid-sized stress throughout the day—that stress feels big and overwhelming to them.

Super-packed curriculum means many students are learning at an accelerated pace. Some kids no longer have P.E., music, art—or even recess. Those are obvious stressors for some kids. But there are other sneaky sources of stress that can cause a child to declare, "I hate school," before hiding under a bed and refusing to come out.

What do you do when your kid really wants to stay home? Remain calm and follow these steps:

1. Uncover the triggers

Kids dislike school for a variety of reasons and getting to the heart of the matter is important. Don't assume that you know what the problem is, however, as this can lead to "solutions" that don't actually work. Find the source of the problem by talking to both your child and your child's teacher.

A few reasons that might crop up:

2. Get back to basics

Along with a more rigorous curriculum, many kids are overscheduled these days. They sit in school all day and then run from sport to sport and eat on the go. They don't have enough time to decompress. They don't have enough time to just hang out and be kids.

I always encourage parents to take a good look at the schedule. Are your kids getting 11 to 12 hours of sleep each night? Do they have time to eat their meals at the table without rushing? Do they have time for unstructured playtime and downtime? If any of those "basics" (which are actually things kids need) are off, your kid will experience higher levels of stress. Would you want to sit at a desk for six hours and pay attention when you're exhausted? Probably not.

3. Empathize

Resist the urge to try to fix or eliminate the problem. Simply listen to your child. Each day, ask your child for his "best/worst." Ask him to tell you the best thing that happened at school followed by the worst. Empathize on both ends.

Childhood can be stressful and confusing. It's hard for kids to feel alone in their dislike of school, but it does happen. Providing emotional support at home and increasing 1:1 time to connect and talk about the good and the bad helps ease the emotional tension for your child.

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4. Be involved

Many schools genuinely appreciate parent volunteers. Whether you help out in the classroom or help organize projects at home while your child sits and chats with you after school, taking an active role in the school community helps your child feel safe and secure at the school.

Strengthen your relationship with your child's teacher by seeking out opportunities to help and, whenever possible, attend school events with your child to showcase the fun part of going to school.

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Photograph by: Twenty20

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