Back to School Tips for Parents Whose Kids Hate School

It's back to school time again. Whether your child is just starting elementary school or on their way to their senior year in high school, the back-to-school jitters affect everyone, and while some children are excited about the prospect of heading back into the classroom, more than a few seem to view this time of year as an annual death sentence.

If you're reading this, there's a good chance that your kid is one of the latter: a kid who hates school. Your experiences during this time of year bring stress with a capital "S". Fights ensue. Tears are involved, and not always from your child. The tantrums and the yelling can be hard to deal with, and embarrassing when they become horrifically public displays.

It's easy to make light of those feelings. After all, going back to school did not end in your child's utter destruction last year; it certainly won't this year. For some children, the back-to-school dread has more to do with laziness than a real feeling of abject fear of post-traumatic stress syndrome, but many parents may not realize that their child could also be harboring some negative emotions that stem from real issues that take place both inside and outside of the classroom.

Consider Why the Child Hates School
First, let's dispel this all-too-common myth that hating school is normal. Despite what many of us may have heard (or felt ourselves) hating school is actually abnormal. Although it's certainly true that many kids will say they dislike school at least a little bit, what most are referring to are certain aspects of school that they dislike.[1] However, children will often internalize the successes and failures they experience at school.[2] Too many failures in certain areas can cause them to view school negatively as a whole, instead of just the areas in which they struggle.

While your children may have a strong dislike of homework (a feeling shared by an overabundance of parents), it's likely not fear of homework that's causing them to act badly.[3] For many children, that feeling of ill will is more directed at the subjects that give them the most stress. One cognitive scientist, Roger Schank, even goes as far as to call many of the classes that kids traditionally hate "useless".[4]

These classes could be the direct reason why your kid hates school. So when the prospect of going back to school rears its ugly head, those negative feelings associated with school are all bubbling up to the surface. Unless your child's school sent them home with summer homework, summer vacation probably offered a reprieve from their primary stressors.

Bullying May Play a Role
Kids who are bullied experience a significant amount of emotional stress.[5] No parent wants to think that their child is the subject of bullying, but recent statistics on bullying suggest that nearly a quarter (22%) of all children identify themselves as having been the targets of a bully, and only 36% of those who were bullied report it.[6]

Bullying is a much more pernicious problem than most parents realize. It's also easy to believe that one's own child is not a victim of bullying, especially if your child is generally perceived as well liked, has a number of close friends, and generally does well in school. Although most bullying occurs in middle school, parents who have children of all ages should keep their radars active.[7]

Be active in checking for the signs of bullying. A child who expresses hate or strong dislike of school is one sign among many. Other signs can include feelings of sadness or depression, complaints about health, skipping school, lower academic achievements and the loss of interest in things that they used to enjoy. If your child liked school at one point, but now makes protestations about going back, he or she quite likely has negative emotions related to school stemming from somewhere. As a parent, it's your job to find out where.

Helpful Tips to Get Your Kid Excited and Happy for School
Regardless of why your child doesn't want to go back to school, you do have the power to do something about it! There are ways for you to flip the script, so to speak, and make going back to school a more enjoyable experience, or at least a less stressful one.

Have your child meet their teachers early. Most schools will have some type of open house for new students before the school starts. But much of the anxiety your child feels is with the unknown. Meeting teachers before school starts can go a long way toward easing that tension. Organize with your child's teachers for some time during the teacher's preparation week. Helping them build those relationships early can go a long way reducing those back-to-school jitters.

Go for one last vacation or trip. If you did your summer vacation early on, you may need to get one last trip in to help your child relax and overcome some anxieties. It doesn't always have to be an expensive trip either; it can easily be something memorable that your child can share with their friends when they return to school.

Organize a back-to-school get-together with your kid's friends. While you might want to be the one to help ease your kid's stress and hate for school, sometimes only their friends can do that. For many children, seeing their friends provides a level of stress relief that you simply can’t give. Try to organize a get-together right before school, and allow them time to relax but also refocus their mind on the upcoming year.

Talk to them about their worries, fears, and frustrations with school. If your child is really struggling with feelings of anger and anxiety with going back to school, make some effort to talk to them about it. Make sure that the setting and approach is familiar and friendly, not angry and confrontational. If they're legitimately struggling with deep-seated emotional issues, showing them that they can rely on you for understanding and support, not judgment, will go a long way to opening the floodgates.

Remember that almost every kid will get nervous heading back to school. Don't let their frustrations be a roadblock! With understanding, love, and a bit of planning, even the most school-hating student can be made to love school again.

Notes
4. "Why Kids Hate School" . WashingtonPost.com
5. "Effects of Bullying" . StopBullying.gov
7. "Facts About Bullying" . StopBullying.gov