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What to Do When Your Child is Unhappy at School

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“I don’t want to go to school today!” my pre-schooler wailed. “My stomach hurts.”

It was the third time in a matter of weeks that my son’s stomach had bothered him, so off to the doctor we went. “I don’t see anything,” the doctor said. “Just keep an eye on it. If it gets worse over the weekend, call me on Monday.”

But it didn’t get worse over the weekend. It was fine…until Monday. The real diagnosis? My son did not like going to school. What can you do when your child is unhappy at school? Lots! Take a look at six things you need to consider when wondering why kids hate school.

1. Physical Problems

These can run the gamut from serious to not so serious. A friend of mine discovered that her daughter was miserable at school because she was so tired. After a thorough physical she found out her fatigue wasn’t from a lack of sleep; it was diabetes. Before you brush off your child’s school complaints, consider his overall health. Could allergies be giving him headaches? Is P.E. causing his feet to hurt? Is there something she’s eating in the cafeteria that’s giving her a stomach ache?

2. Teacher

There is such a thing as a bad teacher-student fit. If you sense that’s the trouble, move forward thoughtfully.  You don’t want to attack the teacher and blame her for the problem. When my son told me that one of his teachers didn’t like him, I followed up by talking to the teacher in a casual setting. As he talked about my son, I could tell my son was right — the teacher was annoyed with him. I talked to my son about the behavior that was bothering his teacher, and I reassured the teacher that I would talk to my son.

3. Friends

The school day can feel extra long when you don’t have friends to hang out with. Ask your child who she sits with at lunch. Ask her to name her three closest friends. Does she get invited to birthday parties? If you have a feeling that she really doesn’t have friends at school, talk to her teacher and get her first-hand account of what she sees. You can bring up this topic with your child by using our Friends TALK Conversation Starters. 

4. Academic

If your child is struggling to keep up with his academic work, investigate the cause of the problem. Are her classes too difficult? Should she be held back? Is she having trouble with homework? You might need to start at square one and sit beside your child after school each day and go over her homework, upcoming assignments, and help her study for tests.

5. Bullies

Even if you think bullying is not an issue in your child’s school troubles, talk about bullying with him, just in case. Our bullying discuss-it points will get you started. 

6. Wrong School

At one point, a friend of mine had her three children at three different schools. Even though it added a lot of driving to her day, she felt that one school could not meet the needs of all of her kids. She even homeschooled her kids at different points when a good school fit couldn’t be found.

If you have the ability to explore different school options, do it. Public schools often allow parents’ choice for special situations. Private schools can also be the right option for some kids. If paying for private school seems beyond your financial ability, look into financial aid at the school you’re interested in before you throw in the towel.

Do you feel like your kids are happy at school?


On a scale of 1-10, how happy are you at your school?

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