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My Child Hates School

My Child Hates School

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Dear Rachel,

My son just started 7th grade which is his first year of middle school. While he is a gifted student and has always done well in his classes, he suddenly hates school this year. He complains constantly and is very stressed out and anxious. He desperately wants to switch schools but I am not sure if that is really something we should consider mid year. What can we do to help him?

Mother of Miserable Kid

Dear Mother of Miserable Kid,

A parent is only as happy as their most unhappy childThere is this great saying that a parent is only as happy as their most unhappy child. So clearly if you are describing your son as miserable, things can't too easy for you either right now!

You mention a number of important factors, each which should be looked at separately, and then in context of the overall situation. Firstly, as I am sure you are well aware, transitioning to middle school from elementary school is a difficult process. There is a lot to get used to and a lot that is completely new. Suddenly your child is moving from class to class, has different teachers and a lot more responsibility both in terms of homework and in the areas of organization and time management to deal with.

In addition, as I am sure you are also well aware, a seventh grade boy is changing internally and with all these hormonal shifts, mood swings are not only common, but to be expected.

So that said, now the trick is figuring out if your child is simply suffering the teenage angst of growing up and changing, or if there is really something more substantial that is happening that is making your child miserable.

Kids love to complain. And if you let them, they can find fault in just about everything and everyone. Yet just letting your son rant about school is not helpful for him or for you. You need to help him clarify exactly what it is that is bothering him and then differentiate between what can be changed or worked on, and what might be out of both of your hands.

For starters, try to empathize with your child and his situation. We all have stories about hating school at different points or a teacher or student who picked on us and made us miserable. Share them with him. Let him know you understand what it is like not to be happy in school and how overwhelming it can be. Reassure him that you understand he is unhappy, you are taking it seriously and you want him to know that he can speak to you about what is bothering him.

Then try to get him to verbalize what the issues are. Is he having a hard time with a particular teacher? Maybe a particular subject? Are the kids picking on him? Are there any social problems? Do not let him get away with a blanket statement that he hates everything about school. He needs to clarify exactly what he doesn't like, and what is causing the dislike. Not liking a teacher is not sufficient. What doesn't he like about the teacher? Is it her teaching style? Is she picking on him in class? Does he find the subject matter boring?

Even if he has legitimate complaints, hopefully you can use this as an opportunity to teach him the importance in life in learning to deal with situations we don't like. While clearly we try to do everything possible to ensure that conditions are ideal, very often we have to accept much less. And learning to get along with people we are not crazy about or learning to work within an environment that is not our comfort zone is part of growing up and an essential skill for a successful future both socially and within the workforce.

You need to help him clarify exactly what it is that is bothering himCommunication is key here. Once you are able to speak openly with your son and he can express and define what is bothering him, then you will have the information you need to determine what the next step should be. But even if you don't feel anything can be changed (he has a teacher with a boring teaching style who is not about to change after thirty years of teaching this way) etc. just by having him share with you the issue, it will already help him feel better. Speaking about a problem and expressing it to someone else helps clarify what the issue really is and takes the full burden off of him. This is why the Hebrew word for healing, refuah, is comprised of the letters for ohr peh, the light of the mouth. That speaking about a problem is the first step to working through it.

But the communication should not stop between you and your son. Once you are aware of what is bothering him, and you have his permission, it might be time to speak to his school. Perhaps there is a guidance counselor who can be made aware of what is bothering him and keep tabs on what is happening. Perhaps the principal needs to be made aware if a student or faculty member is not treating him well. And if the problem is with the class or teacher, very often the teacher is more than happy to have an open and honest discussion regarding the kids in the class. No teacher wants to be hated, and often the teacher is overwhelmed with not knowing what it is the student needs. So being able to discuss your son with him or her and express what you feel the issues are and offer suggestions for how things could be better, gives some practical tips for implementing change.

Regarding switching schools, that should be used as a last resort. Not only is a switch after the year has begun even more of a transition, but nothing guarantees that he will be any happier anywhere else. Only if you are fully convinced that the issues are related specifically to his teachers or the environment in the school and that the school is unwilling to change or work with you at all, would I suggest looking into another option. You also don't want to give your son the impression that when the going gets tough, you will always just find him another option. Part of growing up is learning to work through difficult situations and learning to make the best of things, even when not ideal. So again, I am not saying that there is never a reason to switch schools, but it should be a last resort.

Lastly, the Torah teaches us that each child needs to be educated according to his way, chanoch le'naar al pi darko. In an ideal situation, this would translate into an individualized teaching style and curriculum that is best suited for the every student. Yet since this is impractical in most schools, at the very least you can help understand your child and his needs, and help express those needs to the school so that whenever possible they can be implemented.

Your son is fortunate to have a mother who is so concerned about his happiness and takes his issues seriously. Help him communicate and express what is bothering him. You might get lucky and find that all he really wanted was to be able to vent and be understood. But if there really is something more than the typical teenage pains, he should know that you are there for him with open ears and will help him find his way as much as you can!

Good luck!

Rachel

"Dear Rachel" is a bi-weekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sara Esther Crispe.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the Co-Director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org and wrote the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Discussion (10)
January 21, 2014
I also havea misserable boy when it comes to school
My grandson has autism so he is in special ed. He is currently in the eighth grade and every year before this one he has done well, honor roll for the past two years.
Starting this year all his grades have gone down to C's,D's and even an F. He won't give me a reason for this except "I hate school or I hate my teacher or even why should I have to read" When he is done talking, he runs to his room and slams the door.
I keep talking to his teacher via email and sometimes I think a Dr. might be in order. What is your advise?
Randee
San Diego, California
November 29, 2012
iterations of Aleph in the stories of children who are bullied
I think, there are many reasons children have a hard time at school, and transitions are very hard, for us all, for many reasons. Sadly, there is a lot of bullying out there and children are vulnerable, and often the most sensitive are picked on and now there is this terrible thing, cyber bullying. I think it's wise to find out, what's happening, if a child is very upset. Many children do switch schools, because it becomes an unsupportable situation, and we know of children who commit suicide, a growing problem in our society. One might say, bullying is endemic, and not just about our children, but goes around the world. This must be stopped. No bull. The Aleph was the original bull, and it seems to take the bull by the horns, these days, could be, getting back to the Aleph, and thinking about the bipolarities of words, and how we express ourselves in giving birth to the letters, as in actualizing their potentials for good, and for bad. BET TER our world. RESH: move aHEAD.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
November 29, 2012
Your child sounds like me.
As a child I never liked school. Seventh grade taught me to hate school. Ninth grade was as far as I actually went. I I tried to do tenth grade at home and failed. As a child, I never thought of myself as "different". Seventh grade made that abundantly clear. My faith and perspective of life did not coincide with "others" who I began to perceive as immoral. I recognize now almost 30 years later, I hate to say it, that those were the beginning years of myself becoming self righteous. My faith did not fit into the society of the public school system. By the time I reached the ninth grade, I had witnessed what I perceived as very immoral conduct by a large amount of the students who attended the school, and even a few of those of my faith. (Christian) I never involved myself in their immorality and eventually by my parents consent, left. I testify to this day, and knowing my experiences then, if I was in a G-dly environment, I'm sure I could have completed my education.
Patrick
Boise
November 29, 2012
switching schools
I would say do it. When my dad got stationed to a new base here in Canada and I had to go to downtown for public school in grade 10 I hated it. it bothered me so much that by May I quit. We did not know I could have switched to the one other choice. I went back to grade 10 to the private all girls catholic school in the city-- no I was not catholic but the military paid my tuition since those who were not had to pay to go---. It was a wonderful experience for me overall, although I fell asleep in the monthly mass we had to attend. they had 200 students from grade 9 to grade 13; therefore smaller classes which I was used to. I also found their teaching was better, I got to play violin and do activities in gym which were not at the other school. Even when we moved again 4 years later I am still friends with people from this school since I graduated in 84. Do some research and if you can find smaller classes for him it might also be a blessing for him.
Deborah
Canada
August 28, 2011
As a former middle school teacher,
I have some insights, but first I need to know is this a Jewish or public school and if your son is in a homogenous or heterogenous group of children. Here are the typical social things happening at his age: 1) He has left behind a year of being on TOP (6th gr.) and comes to a year of being on the BOTTOM of the social rung. 2) The older kids do HAZE the newcomers in various ways. 3) The girls INSULT the boys at that age. 4) There is a testosterone surge of "top dog" hierarchy, with "winners" and "losers". 5) There are extremely DRAMATIC feelings, with RAGING insecurities and low self image issues. 6) Teachers, typically, do NOT address the social issues, and view behaviors as being "bad". He may have a teacher who spoke harshly to him or was unjust. This brings up another issue. What is FAIR. He may be feeling something is happening at school which isn't fair. Where they EAT (which bench) & with whom are issues.
Karen Joyce Kleinman Chaya Fradle Bell
Riverside, CA
ocjewish.com
January 9, 2011
My Child Hates School
Did you ask your son WHY hates school? Maybe he feels he can't talk about it because you won't support him.

Is he being teased, made fun of - or bullied? If that's the case, you need to talk to his teacher and the school principal about it. Some children do start new schools mid-year, and ask your child if he wants to do that or can he wait until next year to go to a new school?

Listen to your son - children are smarter than parents think!
Lisa
Providence, RI
November 24, 2010
changing school
Hey just to say, I'm from spain and I'm only a teen myself, i was homeschooled when i was younger then we moved to France and i was thrown into a big school, meaning middle school, i didnt know the language or anything like that,i was also very shy. i always enjoyed it in france when i picked up the language and got really good marks, when we came back to Spain i went to school but it wasnt really a good school, it was terrible and i actually wanted to leave, pointing out that i was 13-14, but i couldnt learn the things i wanted to, in the middle of the school year my mother took me out and we homeschooled again, now i can proudly say that i'm not so shy and i'm taking a class that will lead me into my futur studies. i dont really know if this helps but it was a thought, that you living in america could do homeschooling with more help, because here we had to do with what we had. bye
Sarah
alicante, spain
November 24, 2010
right on, Sara Ester
a masterpiece of insightful compassionate and succinct advice.
Might I add also enriching the child's world outside of school with something that he truly enjoys.This way his individual likes and dislikes ARE being taken care of.
And pray for his success , and for him to get through those oh-so-difficult years as easily as possible.Th mother might want to connect to other mothers of teens because most of what she learned until now about child-rearing has become obsolete!
chana
Givat Zeev, Israel
November 23, 2010
Unhappy Child
I would want to know exactly what's going on--is he being picked on? Are his friends in another school? Is his current trouble something that can be solved with your help?
Having a miserable school year is like working at a job that makes you unhappy--if you must, you must. But wouldn't we all take a job that lets us be happy, if we could? It seems to me that if a child would be happier in another school, he'll learn better and suffer less--so why not make the switch?
I've never bought the idea that having unhappy times as a child readies you for a harsh world: I think if parents (and other adults) can help children to have happy lives, they learn how to take care of themselves instead of staying stuck or being victimized by circumstances they could actually change. And they recall their parents with gratitude and affection, as their protectors.
Lori Covington
Port Medway, Canada
November 21, 2010
switching schools?
Actually, switching schools may be the best thing that you can do for your son. If he is gifted, a blessing from HaShem itself, He could quite well be simply bored with the work he is receiving in his present school. The moderatoor was ever so right when she stressed the need to keep the lines of communication open.Perhaps conversing with your son more like he more mature than his actual age, in years, and letting him know he has the ability to have some input into his schooling will help. What are his main interests and areas of strength. Perhaps digging into the bank account to pay for some special advance level schooling, like Space Camp, may be a good investment. Also it is terribly important to be certain that no person, or group of people ( or, heaven forbid, a particular teacher ) harrassing him, or in some way making life at school unpleasant for him.I will add you to my special needs prayer list . HaShem will guide you if you keep faith and communication. Shalom, Sister.
Mrs. Hannah White
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