Read This If Your Child is Unhappy at School

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written by Natalie, mom and blogger at Afterschool for Smarty Pants

I am very honored to be posting on Imagination Soup today, but I am going to talk about a difficult topic.

When our children go to school, we all want them to be happy and motivated. We want them to love learning, make friends, and keep growing in their abilities.

But what if things don’t go well at school?

What if your children struggle in the classroom, report being bullied by classmates, say that the teacher is too strict or that they are bored?

What if they develop mysterious stomachaches that disappear on weekends or beg you constantly to give up your job and homeschool?

How do you help your children?

Advocate for Your Child in School

I want to share our own experiences in this post. Our second grader goes to a “good” public school in California. We love that our school places a lot of emphasis on reading and writing, organizes special meetings with local authors, and has been focusing a lot on getting children moving during recess. At the same time, our daughter has been complaining all year that she is bored and that everything has been “too easy” for her. When she is trying to use multiplication instead of addition, her work is marked as “incorrect”, and a teacher is complaining that our daughter is “correcting” her in class when her slides have spelling mistakes (I saw those spelling mistakes myself).

Even though it’s tempting to swoop down and set things right, I recommend using CALM DOWN approach when advocating for your child. The only situation when I recommend an immediate intervention is when your child reports being bullied or you observe your child being bullied. So what does it mean to CALM DOWN?

CALM DOWN Approach


C – Craft your desired outcome

It’s best to spend some time envisioning specific changes that could improve your child’s school life. In our case my husband and I discussed at length as to whether or not we want to “skip” our child and decided against it. Instead we asked for math testing and a pull out into an appropriate grade level.

A – Assemble your evidence

If your child is struggling in school but not at home, perhaps you could record him doing his work or reading. You might have to bring pediatric records if your child has a disability that requires accommodation or bring samples of her work done outside of school hours.

L – Learn your rights and consider your options

Different countries and states have different rules on accommodating both struggling learners and gifted learners. You should also consider what you will do if your requests are not met – this could include negotiating a partial solution, looking at private schools, or homeschooling.

M – Meet with your teacher first

It’s quite possible that your teacher is not aware of the situation – after all, he or she deals with many students of very different needs. If your meeting with your child’s teacher doesn’t bring results (our meeting resulted in Oh, Common Core allows differentiating students within the same curriculum, and we don’t do pull outs here), then schedule a meeting with a principal.

D – Don’t get confrontational

You have to believe that your child’s teacher has your child’s best interests at heart. Also, don’t forget that a teacher is also human and is focused on his or her goals. Unfortunately, challenging advanced learners is simply not one of the goals our teachers are asked to meet.

O – Offer help

I volunteer in the classroom weekly and help struggling students with math. This time spent in the classroom gave me new appreciation for my daughter’s and her teacher’s challenges as about 30% of her classmates fall far below expected level of the second grade. It is very understandable that her teacher needs to spend her energies getting struggling students to the level expected for the second grade.

W – Write things down

It’s important to put things in writing, especially if you are trying to put an individual educational plan in place. We don’t qualify for IEP in California, but I still document our conversations, so we don’t need to spend a lot of time on bringing everyone back on the same page.

N – Next steps

All parties need to be clear about next steps and timelines for them. Unfortunately, in our experience we discovered that reminders are needed to progress towards some sort of resolution and even then the progress is slow. At this point we are starting to consider what our alternative “next steps” might be if our “Distinguished California School” cannot accommodate a child who wants to know more than she is “expected to know” at her age.

Final Thoughts

The last advice that I have is that while you are going through these steps, it is important to do it in a way that doesn’t directly involve your child or involves him or her as little as possible.

We don’t want our daughter to know that we are unhappy with her school unless we are prepared to take her out. We also want her to continue to put forward her best effort in her studies.

Changing schools is a big step for any family, and the one that my husband and I are still debating between ourselves while waiting for our school administration to get back to us with a concrete proposal for this year and next year.

But the good news is that parents have options and we have both the right and the responsibility to be an active partner and an active advocate for our children in school.


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  1. So my son is about to turn 8, highly sensitive, has Generalized anxiety disorder, sensory processing disorder and hates school. He says he wishes we were all born smart (born with all knowledge needed for life) so we don’t have to go to school to learn anything. He says he is bored. He is also a slow learner and the public school timeline doesn’t allow him the time he needs to process a concept and retain it. His response is to shutdown. He goes to the learning center on a regular basis. I constantly think about homeschooling. Distance learning was horrible for him, but even though homeschooling isn’t the same format, I fear it would be horrible as well. His teacher suggested that home is a safe place for him and homeschooling could change that. I don’t know what to do. He is always anxious about going to school, like a cloud hanging over his head.

    1. Devon, I wish parenting had an instruction manual sometimes! There often isn’t a clear “right” answer and we just try to do the best we can with what we know. Everything you said about his school experience suggests that it might be worth trying to homeschool. Whatever you decide, remember that you’re trying to do the next right thing and if it doesn’t work, you can always pivot. Cheering you on!