What should I do when my child complains about school?

Many kids don’t like school. They complain about the work, the rules, the teachers, the bus ride, their classmates, or homework. Sometimes the problem centers on the child. Her unhappiness may be a symptom of stress at home, low self-esteem, or problems with peers. At times a child may “hate” school because she isn’t doing well. The work may be too hard. The class may be too large or the setting too distracting for her to concentrate. A child starting middle school may need time to adjust.

Often, however, the problem is school itself. Kids may have valid complaints: “Workbooks are a waste of time.” “Field trips are no fun because you spend your time taking notes and doing what the teacher says to do.” “The book reports we turn in are stupid. You don’t even have to read the book.” “I worked so hard on this paper and she marked it all up and said to do it again. Next time I’m only writing a little.” “All we do is preparing for the standardized test.”

Schools have a responsibility to teach subject matter, help students become independent and responsible learners, and encourage them to think critically and analytically. Children and teachers should respect each other, and teachers should be tolerant of mistakes. Schools also should help parents understand how the education system works and what they can do to help their child. Unfortunately, schools fail at these tasks.

Classroom rules and teaching methods may bore children and discourage learning: “I don’t like science because we never do experiments.” “We have to do the same work as everyone else, even if we already know it.” “You’re never allowed to talk.” “She always calls on the same kids.” There is often not enough flexibility, spontaneity, or creativity in schools. Kids don’t understand or take into consideration all the constraints a teacher faces, dealing with administrative rules, a rigid curriculum, overcrowded classrooms, and difficult students and parents.

“Gifted and talented” classes can be especially disappointing. In some schools, the accelerated and regular curriculums are the same. A gifted child is simply expected to do more of what everyone else is doing—-four similar worksheets, for example, instead of two. One mother took her child out of his middle school gifted program: “The only extra thing the G-T classes had was more busy work!”

Since children don’t have the power to change what happens in the classroom, they complain, hoping adults will help. Some parents listen sympathetically. Like their child, they’re frustrated. They want her to be an active, involved learner, but they fear she won’t be motivated by daily, uninspired lessons.

Other parents don’t want to hear complaints: “I got through the system and so can you.” These parents may defend the status quo and blame their child for not going along with teachers’ demands: “If Mrs. Cooper won’t give you extra credit; she must have a good reason.”

If your child is unhappy in school, she needs your help. Try to find out what’s wrong. If family problems are interfering with schoolwork, make an effort to relieve your child’s stress. If the work seems too hard, find a peer who can coach your child, hire a tutor, do tutoring yourself, or talk to the teacher. If she has continuing difficulty with schoolwork or with a particular teacher, ask if she can switch to another class. If you can’t resolve issues at your child’s school, consider changing to another public school or to a private school that addresses her needs.

Get involved in your child’s education. Encourage her efforts, help with homework, talk about what she’s learning, and be supportive, even when she gets a low grade. Provide the stimulation that may be lacking in school; this will increase her interest and skills. Go to museums, special exhibits, libraries, bookstores, nature centers, and the zoo. Talk about articles from newspapers and magazines. Do research together. Stop in educational stores to pick up interesting materials. And make reading—individually or aloud—a priority.

Talk to your child about her dissatisfaction with school. She may be very perceptive about the problem or she may have only a vague idea of what’s wrong. Many ten- to thirteen- year- olds lack the experience and understanding to analyze their situation. But most can offer some ideas for improvement: “Why can’t we work in groups?” ”Why can’t we make suggestions about subjects to study?” “I wish the teacher would stop patting kids down.” “If she were nicer, I’d ask more questions.”

To help change your child’s school situation, become an active member of the PTA and get to know the teachers and principal. Talk to them about her problems, offer your suggestions, and ask for theirs. If you’re calm and respectful, they should be willing to listen. Contrary to parents’ fears, most teachers won’t react negatively to a child whose parents have a complaint. If you’re not happy with your local school’s response, take your issues to the school district administration. However, be realistic about the improvements you can bring about. School systems change slowly, if at all. Rather than wait, do all you can to keep your child interested in learning.

Picture Credit : Google