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My Child Doesn‘t Enjoy School


First things first:  children don’t enjoy everything that is good for them.  And, in the same vein, everything they enjoy isn’t good for them.  Think about vegetables and funnel cakes.  Making the bed and Grand Theft Auto.

At school, children are growing up as well as learning.  Socialization and education occur under the same roof.  At any given time, there may be multiple reasons why your child doesn’t enjoy school . . . and the reasons seem to take turns.

But enough about the obvious.  If you’re sufficiently concerned about this topic to be looking for information, then your child has expressed this sentiment more than once or twice.  And you probably already know the common sense things to do. 

  • Talk to your child.
  • Talk to the school.
  • Do a reality check.


Talking to your child does not mean drilling him:  “What’s wrong with the school?  Are your teachers being mean to you?  What do you mean, no one will play with you?  Names, give me names!”  Nor does it mean sympathizing with her:  “Oh you poor thing!  You mean I’ve been sending you to school every day and you don’t like it?  What can I do?  I’m so sorry!”

Of course, you need to find out what it is about school that your child doesn’t enjoy.  Is it personal:  another student, a particular teacher?  Is it academic:  is your child struggling to keep up in history or arithmatic?  Is it general:  he doesn’t like going, period?  Listen carefully as your child talks, and be careful not to put words in his mouth.  Mom, you may not have liked English – and thus not liked your English teacher – but you are not the one going to school now.  Don’t assume the problem is academic even though her last report card showed a problem in one of her subjects.  As far as she’s concerned, that could be the least of your child’s worries.


You also need to find out what your child does enjoy about school.  In fact this may be a great place to start.  You may need to remind her:  she likes Ms. Smith, she met her friend Frankie there, she told you all about photosynthesis just last week.  By finding out what he does enjoy, you may be better able to deal with what he doesn’t.  You may even find that the problem is not as large as you feared when he originally announced “I don’t like school.” 

Also ask what she thinks other students/classmates like or don’t like about school.  If it seems that Mary has a big head and does nothing but talk about how her father bought her this or that, or is taking her to Africa on safari during finals – none of which has anything to do with liking or disliking school, per se, you will know more about the issues involved.  If Johnny has gotten a medal for writing a story, and your child wrote a wonderful story for that assignment, too, but didn’t get the medal – well.

One of the things that children learn at school is that they are not the center of the universe.  School is the place where they are put into a room full of other people who are all being asked the same questions, all given the same assignments.  It is the first place they are measured:  against others and against their own abilities.  This is part of “growing up” and you cannot protect your children from it.  If that is what your child doesn’t like about school, then remember that it is up to you to form your child’s character.  The school may be the medium for conveying differences in money, brainpower, status, but you are the messenger and the message must be simple:  “Make the most of what you have.  Do the best you can with what you’ve got.  Your gifts are unique and they are sufficient.  You are loved.”  The rest of the message may be more focused: “. . . but that has nothing to do with the fact that you still have to write another story, or do your math homework, or learn to conjugate verbs in the past imperfect tense.”  Life is about having things go on around us that we must either deal with or ignore in order to stay on our own path.  Children learn how to do that at home – and how to tell one from the other -- but the first place they run up against it in the “real world” is at school.

When you talk to “the school,” of course you have to break it down into manageable parts.  Talk to your child’s teacher, or teachers.  Talk to the administrators – counselor, vice principal, principal – even the school nurse.  You don’t have to take a day off work to talk to the people who are so important in your child’s life.  Even the principal will have email these days.  Parent conferences can be arranged over the phone.  These people see your child every day in a context you don’t, and their observations may surprise you.  They may see an aggressive child where you see only high spirits.  They may see a shy child, while you know that his older sister has always spoken for him – he’s waiting for someone else to articulate what he’s thinking.  They may see a child struggling to understand arithmetic where you saw a child who doesn’t want to do her homework – seeing “doesn’t want” instead of “can’t”.  They may see a child who doesn’t participate in group activities where your child sees activities for which he is never chosen.  Don’t be defensive – at least, not yet.  When you ask, be prepared to listen to the answers.

You may discover a serious problem:  an unfair, abusive teacher or a student who is stealing lunch money by threatening others.  You may uncover a serious learning disability in your child such as dyslexia.  These would almost be a relief because they can be dealt with directly, satisfying your desire to help your child enjoy school.

On the other hand, and much more likely, you may discover that your child is simply experiencing growing pains:  some success, some failure, some easy, some hard.  Shoes that fit a child this week may not fit her next week.  That doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with either the child or the shoes – or the store that sold them to you.

Education involves effort and effort requires perseverance and fortitude.  These are qualities you can and should encourage in your child.  Fractions don’t just leap full-blown into children’s heads.  Once they are there, however, they form the basis for more complex mathematics.  Be careful not to let your child equate “not understanding” with “not enjoying.” 

You know your child – her strengths, his weaknesses.  You should know, because you make it a priority, what he is studying at school and what she is learning from that study.  Schools are becoming more attuned to parents and their concerns, in part because their own performance at imparting knowledge has been so dismal (when measured by standard tests).  If your child doesn’t enjoy school, take the steps suggested above.  Put the information you gain against the information you have already.  Assess the action you should take, if any. 

The reality is that you are the primary educator of your child.  If you are satisfied that the school is teaching subjects appropriately, then it is up to you to teach the values that enable your child to discern (and appreciate) the difference between “enjoyable” and “worthwhile.”


More tips...

If your child doesn‘t appear to like school, there could be any number of reasons why. It may be due to peers or friends. It could be a family issue or self-esteem. Observe your child, listen to what he/she says. Ask open-ended questions that require him to talk about what‘s bothering him. Listen carefully before offering any solutions. Ask leading questions that help your child arrive at the solution. With your guidance, have your child solve his problem. Also do these Parent-Driven School actions:

  • Get involved. Visit the school. Conference with the teacher. Children whose parents are involved have better grades and more positive attitudes.
  • Understand your child‘s personality, and reflect it to the teacher. Provide motivational clues for the teacher. Work in partnership.
  • Discuss non-schoolwork issues with the teacher or school counselor. Develop realistic strategies that will support your child‘s social development.



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