“Please don't make me go, Mom,” your child begs. “I hate school.”
Hate is a strong word. Unfortunately, it's also a word some kids use to describe their feelings about school. Why do some children say they hate school, and what should you do if your child is one of them? Here are five reasons why kids scorn their schooling — and five important ways that parents can help.
1. Sleep deprivation
The average adult can subsist on seven hours of sleep or less, but kids require more Zzzs than that. Sleep deprivation is a leading cause of learning and behavior problems in class. Young children and tweens need 10–11 hours per night, while teens need about 9 hours. Is your child getting enough?
How you can help: Enforcing a strict bedtime is key, but you should also monitor your child's activities during the hours leading up to bedtime. Studies show that the electronic blue light emitted by tablets, smartphones and computers interferes with the body's release of the sleep hormone melatonin. This is especially detrimental for teenagers who habitually game, surf and text before hitting the sack.
2. Visual impairment
Visual impairments often go unnoticed until problems crop up at school. Washington law requires all students in grades 1, 2, 3, 5 and 7 to take eyesight tests, but some kids slip through the cracks.
While nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism are fairly common, these diagnoses represent just a fraction of all visual impairments. Lesser-known problems like higher-order aberration, convergence insufficiency, amblyopia, and visual processing disorder are more common than you might think. Without adult intervention, any one of these disorders could ruin school for a child.
How you can help: Glasses or contact lenses can correct problems like nearsightedness and farsightedness, but an in-depth exam from a pediatric eye care specialist may be required for kids with other visual problems.
3. Social problems
Whether it's bullying, extreme shyness, feelings of isolation, or a spat between friends, peer-related difficulties can make school unbearable for kids. A little adversity is normal, but if social issues cause your child to balk at the idea of going to school, it's time to intervene.
How you can help: Ask open-ended questions about your child's day. Listen without judgment, and vocalize your unconditional love and support. Your child needs to know that you're an ally, not a critic. If necessary, enlist the help of a school counselor or other professional.
4. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
In a class of 30 students, one or two suffer the negative symptoms of ADHD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Boys are 2–3 times more likely to have it than girls, and parents with ADHD sometimes pass the disorder on to their children.
Kids with ADHD fight a constant battle against sensory distractions like buzzing lights, voices in the hall, and odors from the cafeteria. Sensory overload leads to feelings of stress and vulnerability that deter learning. Hence, a neverending cycle of distraction and anxiety.
How you can help: Only a medical professional can diagnose ADHD. If you suspect your child might have the disorder, get him tested by a pediatrician, psychologist or psychiatrist.
If it turns out that your child has ADHD, you'll want to fill your toolbox with as many survival strategies as possible. Split lengthy tasks into digestible chunks, give short and direct verbal instructions, use visual cues to keep him on task and reward appropriate behavior. If you feel squeamish about breaking out the Ritalin — as many parents do — try other behavioral modification strategies before turning to medication.
5. Education Deficit Disorder (EDD)
ADHD isn't the only syndrome that impacts kids' feelings about school. Education Deficit Disorder is a term that describes the systemic failure some public schools to adequately serve all learners.
Crowded classrooms, dwindling tax dollars and standardized test pressures make it increasingly difficult for teachers to do their job well. Some school districts switch often from curriculum to curriculum. These circumstances can leave both teachers and students feeling helpless, confused and angry. It's hard for a child to love school in a problematic educational climate.
How you can help: If you suspect your child's dissatisfaction is a result of the system he's in, volunteer to help in his classroom. Scope out the staff, the curriculum, the environment and other factors that impact his life. Tell the teacher you're ready to roll up your sleeves and help make your child's education the best it can be. Like the squeaky wheel, parents who are visible and vocal tend to get what they need for their child.
Sometimes, “I hate school” is the only information you get. Your child is either unable or unwilling to elaborate further. The problem could stem from a health issue, a school issue, or a social conflict. Whatever the cause, you must pursue the problem — for your child's well-being and for your own peace of mind.