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I Can't Figure Out Why My Son Hates School

By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist

Question:

My son has been saying that he hates school. He will sometimes cry in the morning and say he doesn't want to go. His teacher has said when he is in school he seems to do OK. He gets along with everyone, and there aren't any behavior problems. He states he likes his teacher but doesn't like going. He really hasn't been able to articulate why he doesn't want to go.

He does struggle a bit with math, but this was an issue before math became a problem for him. How can I help him enjoy school and should I be concerned that this has lasted the school year?

Answer:

This may simply be a matter of maturity. First grade is often the first time that youngsters have spent the entire day away from home, which can be overwhelming. As such, the adjustment can take a long time and behaviors can vary widely. There are a few things you can do to help him along the way.

First, make sure your son is getting enough sleep each night. Research has shown that poor or inadequate sleep can lead to mood swings, behavioral problems and even problems with learning. According to the National Sleep Foundation, school-aged children require 10-11 hours of sleep each night. Also, wake him early enough so that he can get ready for school in a relaxed fashion and enjoy a healthy breakfast.

Second, find ways to help your son feel more connected to his school. See that he participates in after-school activities (Cub Scouts, team sports) or group events sponsored by the school. Plan weekend play dates for him with peers from his classroom, so that he develops friendships and looks forward to seeing the other children at school. Ensure that you do this over the summer, as well, so he stays connected during the long break.

Third, monitor your own reactions to his distress. Children are amazingly perceptive when it comes to their parents' emotions. Your son may be picking up on your feelings of concern, which in turn may fuel his anxiety and his desire to stay close to you. Questioning him about his dislike of school may be reinforcing in some way; instead, talk to him about his school day with enthusiasm, giving reinforcement for positive reports and only limited attention to negative reports.


Dr. Stacie Bunning is a licensed clinical psychologist in the St. Louis area. She has worked with children, adolescents, and their families in a variety of clinical settings for 20 years. Bunning also teaches courses in child psychology, adolescent psychology, and human development at Maryville University in St. Louis.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

11/9/2009:
"Love them more. have you ever thought that maybe they arent ready really for school PLUS wouldnt you rather your child 'Connect' to you than school.. make sure you both feel more connected together than the child to school... Because on the inside of a child if he/she feels confident and loved unconditionally then they will be ready to go 'out into the world' they are smart and elt you know its up to us parents to listen to them.. pull them out temporarily and home educate until you both feel ready! WOW thats against the grain isnt it!"
05/14/2009:
"The fact that your son hates school and is communicating this to you is an obvious sign of his intelligence. School is, for the most part, an indoctrination camp where you are taught how to be a good citizen, to be respectful of rules and authority figures and how to fit in with your peers and the status quo. Those children who are intelligent, creative, free thinkers, introverted, inquisitive, challengers of authority, emotionally intense or those who just happen to have a different sounding name, appearance or dialect from their peers are ostracized, marginalized and relentlessly pounded into submission by both their peers and their teachers (the wardens of the 'prison'). This continues until they either drop out or learn to sufficiently mimic their better conforming peers and disguise their true selves. Don't worry though - Your son will stop telling you he hates school the moment he realizes you'd prefer him to be dishonest on the topic."
02/2/2009:
"My son is the exact same way, he is in the first grade as well, when he was in Kindergarten last year, he enjoyed it very much, it was a full day Kindergarten class, not half days, before then he was in Preschool/Daycare since he was 2.5 years old. September started and he went to a new school, closer to where I live, so I don't have to bus him everyday to his old school. In the AM he is reluctant, miserable and anxious about going to school. Often times late, because he doesn't listen to get ready on time, he does sleep 10 hours and eats a good breakfast, but when it is time to get dressed and out the door he slows right down to a crawl about getting ready, and out the door in time. Then takes his time walking to school. Then once at the office (Picking up the late slip) he sits outside the classroom door and makes 'strange' and not want to go into the classroom. He has many friends, but I do know that his teacher said that he is falling behind in reading, and he refuses to! pick up a book for his reading homework everynight. (15 min every night) he used to LOVE to have me read to him. I think I am going to have to put away the t.v. until he can read at his grade level at least... "
11/19/2008:
"hello, i have a 6 year old boy who has loved and done well in private KG now, he is attendiing public first grade and he says his teacher is 'mean' .I have met with his teacher about his storytelling and lack of listening and following directions(all new behaviors-all previous teachers still ask for him they loved him!) and i too do not feel good about her for many reasons.(mainly i feel she emphasises the negative never a positive word about his efforts,his self...) he continues to say i hate school andhis teacher is mean. would it be more harmful to change teachers at this point in the year?it has only been 3 months and the teacher has managed to focus on ALL these negatives with 0 positive comments.I feel she has notliked him from day one becausehe has a different foreign sounding name and her name is actually jane. i heard her correcting a mom on back to school night when she said his name and the tone was sarcastic and predjudiced sounding. PLEASE HELP he is a very intelli! gent sensitive boy with so much potential and shes dampering it!"
06/18/2007:
"I was curious to see what the response to this question was going to be but this is a very different situation than the reason why my son does not want to go to school. He has been tardy 41 times this school year and we were summoned by the Attendance Officer for the county school district for not having our son in school. Although we had addressed the issue with both his teacher and the principal, we got nowhere with either one of them. Our son told us he did not want to go to school because he was 'bored.' Therefore, every morning was a fight and a struggle with him to get him to get ready for school, which resulted in the 41 tardies for the school year. His teacher was quite surprised to hear that he didn't want to come to school because she never had any problems with him once he was there. To make a long story short, after a lot of investigating throughout the year, and his teacher have taught 1st grade to my youngest brother who will be 40 this summer, her teachi! ng habits were not for the advanced student. The No Child Left Behind Act is not just for the child who needs help with academic studies but is also for the accelerated student which his current school was not giving him. This resulted in my husband and I being summoned by a truancy officer, which was an absolute joke, especially when the principal and his teacher knew the circumstances. During this meeting the principal just sat there and didn't even say a word in our defense. Needless to say, our son will not be attending this school in the fall for 2nd grade, and I have been investigating both public and private schools trying to find the right fit for him. Any suggestions?????"
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