Help! My Child Hates School

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Your kid may feel helpless about school, but that shouldn't mean that you feel helpless too. In fact, it's just the time to think positive and turn your child's perception of school around. Learn how with our top nine tips.

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“But I don't want to go!”

By Karla Lant

Sound familiar? No parent wants to drag her kids to school as they dig their heels in the ground—but all too often, kids lose interest in a daily education as they grow older. If your child suddenly decides school is the worst, don’t panic! There’s still time to build a love of learning and get your kid back on a happy, educational track.

Lead by example.

Take courses at a community college or spice up family meals with culinary lessons—and let your kids see how fun it is to learn something new. You, as a parent, are instrumental in forming your kid’s ideas about, well, everything!

“School is our children's first taste at acquiring a point of view,” says Dr. Cheryl Wu, a Manhattan pediatrician. “If we put in the effort and the elbow grease to help our children succeed at school, with an optimistic and cheery attitude, our children will become enthusiastic at school.”

Make reading part of your daily schedule.

If you’re a big fan of books, show your kid what being a “greedy ready” is all about by carving out storytime every day. “When your child sees you reading and teaching yourself new information, that makes a real impression on them,” explains Resa Fogel, Ph.D., a psychologist who works with children and adolescents. “Even just a magazine you enjoy can show your children that reading is part of your routine and that you like to read even when you don't have to.”

Any type of reading your child’s into—including comic books and age-appropriate magazines—will help build literacy skills and foster a lifelong love of books. Encourage this habit by taking kids to a neighborhood library or bookstore, and allow them to pick out a few stories to tackle.

Talk to your child about school.

Ask your kid how his day was every day—and don’t settle for a one-word answer. By shooting the breeze about everything from Legos to multiplication, you’ll establish open lines of communication, and your child will be more likely to open up to you when things are tough.

If a subject is out of your area of expertise, it's okay to tell your child, “I don't know, but let's find out together.” Research ways to tackle Spanish homework online, or arrange a “study buddy” to pitch in and show kids how to solve problems.

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Respond positively to questions about school.

“Don't tell your children that you hated school,” advises Christine Weber, Ph.D., a psychologist who provides neuropsychological assessments and counsels kids in psychotherapy. “I see parents excuse things their children do at school simply because they themselves hated school and had a bad experience.”

Let your children know they won't regret involving you by asking you questions—and stay positive about learning!

Show your child that learning is a lifelong process.

Prove to your kid that hard work is the best way to succeed in any profession. “Show them that learning never ends,” Fogel says. If you’re cramming for teaching credentials or simply brushing up on accounting to move up the career ladder, be vocal and positive about it. Seeing real-life rewards from schoolwork can help motivate little learners.

Get involved with the school.

Establish a good relationship with the staff at your child’s school from the get-go—offer to help out in the classroom, email your kid’s teacher to stay on top of assignments, or participate in PTA events. A proactive, can-do attitude will serve you well should an issue arise at school. By working together with educators beforehand, you’ll be more likely to receive help in dealing with any problems.

“Make sure your kids know that the teacher is an ally,” says Cyndi Kessler, a grade school special education substitute teacher. If there is a serious problem at school, be sure to pursue a solution.

Handle issues with the teacher quietly.

What about when the teacher really is the problem? If you’re dealing with a bad teacher, empathize with your child—but stay mum on details. “If you, as a parent, have issues with the teacher, don't discuss them with or in front of your children,” says Kessler. “Model the kind of relationships your children should have with others.”

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Make sure your kid’s school is a good match.

Is your child an adventurer, who hates being cooped up indoors? Or does he respond well to structure and rules? The style of your child’s school—experiential, Montessori or traditional public—matters.

“I think the most important thing for schooling is to find a good fit for the child, finding compatibility between the personality of the school and the personality of one's child,” Wu says. Visit different campuses with your child, and ask lots of questions about the facilities, student body and daily schedule to see if it’s a right fit.

Don't be too hard on your kid.

Hey, we get it: A's earn parents serious bragging rights, but just because your kid’s a math whiz doesn’t mean English will be a breeze too. Save praise or punishment for the effort—not the grade.

Above all, never disparage your child. Life—and school is life for kids—always has its ups and downs. By giving your kid a loving environment, listening and incorporating education into daily life, you’ll foster a love of learning that will leave you with a happy, successful student.

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