Yvette comes home from school, slams down her backpack and runs into her room. She's facedown on the bed sobbing into her rock star pillow, and you make out a few words: "...friend," "...too much," and "I hate school." The scenario is likely familiar; just about every parent will hear their child bemoan homework, tests, friend problems, and more at some point. Some issues may resolve themselves as the school year progresses, but parents still need to know how to cope with those "I hate school blues."
The first step is affirmation. Remember to acknowledge your child's feelings. Let him know it's OK to feel what he feels. Then get to the heart of what is bothering him. "Parents should always send the message that they care, and they're interested," says Christian Belissimo, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., R.P.T., an expert in child psychology and play therapy. He and several other educational and consultative professionals share their insights on how parents can be supportive while striving to resolve common school dilemmas:
My teacher is unfair. He/she plays favorites.
Belissimo underscores the importance of maintaining open communication with your child's teacher. Attend that conference, no matter where the school is or how crammed your schedule may be. Meeting with the teacher will help you evaluate the situation and separate myth from reality.
If your child feels he is being singled out, don't disregard it. See it as a problem that needs to be resolved and let your child build accountability while doing so. You should also tell your child that teachers are people, after all, and people can have a bad day. Be sure to stress the upside of a tough teacher - he/she is challenging you and wants to see you reach your full potential.
They give me too much homework/projects/book reports.
Do the research. Your child's assignments may be reasonable, but he might be having trouble scheduling them. Maybe he's spending too much time on Facebook or Wii before getting down to business. Setting boundaries is crucial. And don't forget to praise him once he does complete the assignments.
Bonnie, a New York City elementary school teacher, offered additional advice for parents. "The homework I give my kids is a repeat of what we were learning in class," she notes. "So if your child thinks it's too difficult, he probably didn't grasp the lesson." Parents should alert their child's teacher (by sending in a note or via e-mail) that their child is having trouble. Bonnie also reminds parents that teachers use homework and long-term projects to encourage children to become independent learners.
I don't have any friends at school.
Be sure to empathize with your child, and acknowledge the hurt. Remind her of the qualities (being a good sharer or her sense of humor) that make her a great friend. You can also take the lead in building relationships by arranging a play date or enrolling your child in an after-school activity where she'll have something in common with other kids.
There's a bully in my class/grade.
Arm your child with knowledge. There are a number of tactics he can take to stop a bully in his tracks. Advise your child to try confronting the bully, asking (in a calm voice), "Why are you being mean to me?" Or suggest he speak up and confidently say, "Stop picking on me." Another approach is to make light of the situation, and diffuse the other person's anger with a joke. If problems persist, meet with a teacher/principal. For more tips on how to deal with bullies - including cyber bullies - visit www.mcgruff.org/advice/bullies.
I'm embarrassed to get changed for gym.
When middle school kids prepare for gym, it's often their first experience changing in front of other people. Belissimo stresses that new experiences are always difficult for a child. Couple this with the fact that puberty and body image/awareness are prominent issues among teens, and you can probably empathize with your child's discomfort. Talk the situation through; be open and honest. Let your child know she can come to you about anything, even things that are embarrassing.
I have to get up so early/the school day is too long.
If you're hearing this, teacher Bonnie says, it's a signal your child is tired. You can help him to wake up and stay fresh all day by enforcing a reasonable bedtime (8pm to 9pm for younger kids). As a teacher and single parent, she knows the value of a calming nightly routine. It may be a warm bath, story time, or a cuddling and talking session. Start by turning the TV off at least one hour before bedtime. "If your child is persistently late to class, there must be consequences," Bonnie says, noting that many parents leave it up to teachers/administrators to deal with recurring lateness.
During the school year, other complaints and situations will surely arise. The best parenting tip of all? Never buy into your child's frustration, and don't let him become the boss.