How Can I Help My Tween Who Hates Her School?

By Debra Collins, Family therapist


I was wondering if you had any advice for me. My 12-year-old daughter, who is in seventh grade, hates her school and classmates for the most part. We moved to this new school last year and she had a tough time, and this year has not improved. It is an extremely small K-8 school and she has 18 classmates of whom 12 are boys. She was in a school of 150 per grade before. This is a tough age - but her self- esteem is about nil and I have spoken with the school about my concerns. She displays a lot of anger. What can I do? I would like to try transferring but don't know if that is possible. Help!


It is not clear if your move was a natural promotion to middle school, or if you moved because your family relocated. The transition to middle school from grade school is hard on many children and if your move includes giving up home, friends and familiar surroundings, the transition can seem very daunting. If this was the case, having her find ways to stay connected to her past, while finding ways to integrate into a new environment, can lessen her loss.

If your daughter did not have a choice in what school she now attends, this could also be problematic. No one likes to feel that they don't have some control over their lives. I think your statements show that you are aware of what some of the potential difficulties are. If all the children in this small K-8 school have been going to school together since kindergarten, it might be difficult to fit in. Their relationships have been established for a long time and this is a sensitive age where "newness" is threatening. The girl-to-boy ratio is also problematic, making her options even fewer.

It is a good idea to broaden a child's social network and activities when they are feeling isolated. However, it would seem due to the size of the school that you would need to seek resources outside the school environment.

School is more than just a place for academic learning; it is also about building social and emotional connections, cooperation and personal growth. It would be important to find out from your daughter what she feels she needs from her school setting to feel successful, and then work with the school to see if assimilation is possible, or determine if perhaps a different school would be a better fit.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

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.