What To Do If Your Child Hates School And Is Struggling To Cope

01/02/2016 8:26 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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sad girl sitting and thinking in the classroom

Of course, every parent is bound to hear the phrase, "I don't wannaaaaa go to schooooool," at some point during their child's education.

But there is a difference between a child not wanting to go to school because, say, it's a Monday and they would rather it still be the weekend (welcome to Mondayitis, kids) and when something more serious is at play.

Bullying, developmental problems and separation anxiety can all play a factor which, if it goes untreated, can turn into something serious.

"There are many reasons children don’t like school," University of Sydney psychology clinic director Dr Judy Hyde told The Huffington Post Australia.

"There are the usual reasons, such as they would rather be on holidays, but really for the most part, children enjoy being at school -- they enjoy socialising with their friends and learning," Hyde told HuffPost Australia.

"Where things can become worrisome if there are psychological problems getting in the way of enjoying school.

"These can be things such as bullying, or if the child has a learning difficulty and can't keep up in class, and so is feeling dumb and stupid.

"These sorts of things can lead a child to struggle with their self esteem and, as a flow-on effect, they will begin dreading school."


Bullying can be a factor in a child's fear of school.

Though Hyde said schools had become much better at addressing bullying, she said it was a particularly difficult issue to eradicate completely.

"Bullying can be a huge problem and lead to terrible depression," Hyde said.

"I think across the board, schools are much more aware, but of course it still goes on.

"What makes it particularly difficult is children are often very frighted to have [the fact they are being bullied] known. They are afraid what the bully says about them might be true and they don’t want to admit to that. Or they are afraid of the repercussions if adults take action to support and help them.

"It can be very complicated."

If a child is struggling at school and, for whatever reason, doesn't want to tell a teacher or a parent, there are a couple of "warning signs" you can keep an eye out for.

"Typically, you'll see girls become quiet and withdrawn, or lethargic. I'm generalising, but this often seems to be the case.

"Boys will act out to deflect people from noticing they are not coping. I'd say, if a boy is struggling at school, you might find him more difficult to manage at home.

"I think if the child is just not seeming like themselves, you might want to have a chat to them."

Boys acting out could be a signal of other troubles.

Another issue that could be affecting a child's relationship with their school might not be anything to do with the school itself, but rather what's happening at home.

"Problems such as separation anxiety occur when a child picks up on the parents anxieties," Hyde said.

"Then it might become less about not wanting to go to school, and more about wanting to stay home to make sure a parent is ok.

"There was this one little boy I treated who used to literally run up the walls of the therapy room. I thought, 'well it's obvious -- this kid has ADHD'.

"However, once we completed the assessment, I realised his mother had a quite a bad case of brittle diabetes which put her at risk of a serious hyperglycemic attack. They lived on a property on the outskirts of Sydney and the little boy never wanted to go to school because he was afraid something would happen to his mother when he wasn't there.

"Once we actually figured it out and spoke to the mother, and addressed her anxiety and some other health issues... you just wouldn't believe it was the same child. He was so settled. What we thought was clearly a case of ADHD just dissipated."

Of course, that's not to say disorders like ADHD don't exist, and if your child is showing symptoms of having an attention disorder, Hyde recommends the parents have the child assessed by a psychologist.

unhappy at school

The environment at home can also affect a child's school life.

If your child is expressing signs of distress, or you feel their dislike of school is more than the "I hate homework" variety -- how should you approach the situation?

"I would suggest going and talking to the school. That would be my first step," Hyde advised. "Then I would try talking to the child, to to try and understand exactly what's going on.

"However you need to approach the subject in a compassionate way. Children who are struggling and thereby acting out can often become object of adult frustration and anger. No child actually acts out because they are bad -- they act out because distressed or churned out about something.

"Talk to them empathetically, and that will help guide you as to what needs to be done."

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