I hate school. Do I really have to go?
These words were hurled at me for the first time this year. My son, a current fourth grader, is struggling. The curriculum is more challenging. Teacher expectations are different. For the first time in his academic life, he isn’t excelling at school. While most of his friends are thriving academically and in various extracurricular activities, my son is working really hard to keep up.
So, what happens when your elementary-aged child tells you he or she hates school? My work as a licensed professional counselor has taught me that conversations centered in curiosity will get you much farther than a lecture.
I tell clients often that curiosity is the antidote to judgment. And if there’s anything our kids need less of, it’s just that — our judgment. Here are three ways to respond and one thing I’d never recommend a parent say.
>> RECOMMENDED RESOURCE :: Guide to Childcare & Schools in and Around Dallas <<
1. Respond with a Statement
You say: Tell me more about this.
When said in a calm way, this statement gives your son or daughter permission to expand on those feelings he or she is experiencing. This response paves the way for your student to give you more information without being bombarded by a million questions.
Meet your child’s feelings with acceptance instead of working hard to change his or her mind. Feelings are not facts. Just because someone says “I hate school” today, does not mean he or she will hate school tomorrow.
2. Respond with a Question
You say: What would need to be different about school so that you’d want to go?
This is a variation on what some counselors refer to as the “miracle question.” It allows for you to assess where the real problem exists. Feelings of school refusal can stem from a million different avenues. Are there issues with friends? Is someone at school making your child feel uncomfortable? Did a recent grade convince your student that he or she is no longer capable?
Whatever the reason, helping our son or daughter identify the why behind a feeling is important. It can empower us to be more solution focused.
3. Respond with a Reflection
You say: You’d rather be anywhere else than school today. You sound upset.
Listening with reflection is a skill most of us have yet to master. It is easy to believe that listening is about how to respond, how to fix or solve, or how to shift the spotlight to us. In reality, the best listening has nothing to do with us and has everything to do with keeping the focus on the person who is speaking.
Reflective listening keeps your child and his or her feelings at the core of the conversation.
>> RELATED READ :: A Mindful Child: Activities to Build Mindfulness with Children <<
What Not to Say
Whatever you say, I would encourage you not to minimize or discount your student’s feelings, even if he or she says something shocking like “I hate school.” Dismissive comments could sound like:
- You love school, you don’t know what you’re talking about.
- Oh, stop! You’re just being dramatic.
- If you only knew how hard it was to be an adult and work all day, you’d be begging to go to school.
The work we do as parents when our kids are young can set the tone for what to expect when they get older. If your kid suspects that any feelings you might disapprove of will automatically get him or her lectured, judged, or grounded, it may become increasingly more difficult to connect as he or she gets older.
If your goal as a parent is to have a positive impact on your kid, then the work of engaging in curiosity will be incredibly helpful.
It’s been about a month since those words were unleashed. We’re navigating these feelings and experiences for the first time as parents. I grew up loving school, though I might be raising a son who doesn’t always share the same affinity for academics. At the end of the day, what is most important to me is that my son recognizes that his feelings about school have space to exist. And whether or not he hates school, he’s got a mom and dad who love him for who he is.