Skip to main content

What to do when your child hates school

Child with their head between their knees
Frequent sick-days and a general reluctance to go in are signs that your child is not enjoying their school experience. Follow this expert advice on how to address and resolve these issues.

Monday morning. You are rushing to pack the kids' lunches and get them out of the house on time. But the youngest is ill. Again. You've taken him to the doctor, who can't seem to find the any reason for the mysterious flu-like symptoms. You’re beginning to suspect that your six year old's amateur dramatics – the tummy clutching and the shivers – can only be attributed to one simple fact: your child hates school.

Parentline Plus’s Sue Ormesher advises parents to first of all find out what is making their child unhappy: “It’s important to show that you want to understand your child's problems as they will be more likely to open up to you.”

Not sure what’s wrong? Observe them at school

Educational reforms have made it simpler for parents to be directly involved in their children's education.

Mum-of-two Suzie Walsh from Manchester found that her five-year-old son went through a phase of hating school, so she shadowed him in the classroom for a week to see his interaction with his teacher and his peers first-hand. “I noticed that the teacher was not giving him a chance to speak and, as if in retaliation, he would become disruptive,” she says, “So I was able to see first-hand where things were going wrong and once I talked to my son about this and to the head teacher, we were able to make sure that he felt listened to.”

School refusal

School refusal isn’t just not wanting to go to school, it’s debilitating form of anxiety that affects around one per cent of children. It’s more common in boys, and tends to peak between ages five and six, and 11 and 12. If you think your child may be suffering from school refusal, find out more about it and read our action plan to decide what your next steps will be.

What if it’s bullying?

For some children, their hatred of school has nothing to do with their teacher but with unpopularity or, more seriously, bullying.

Chartered educational psychologist Tim Francis runs an online advice service for parents. He suggests parents observe their children during playtime or lunch breaks: “You tend to find that children with no friends are the ones who hang around the wire fence. You can help your child to better their social skills by talking to a teacher about implementing a buddy scheme, where more active children are assigned to those who don't find it as easy to interact. You can help them with their social skills training at home as well. These are easily available on the internet. And encourage your child to bring classmates home for dinner or for sleepovers.”

“If bullying is the problem, arrange a meeting at the school and make sure your child is included,” suggests Sue. “It helps to write down all the questions you have and the points you want to make. Try to keep copies of any letters you send and a diary of where you have gone for help and information.”

Teenagers and school

It may be the case, as it is with some teenagers, that there are no major problems but your child is going through the stage of thinking that school isn't ‘cool'.

“First of all, be aware that this is a very normal phase in any teenager’s development,” says Tim. “But in most cases parents can solve this problem by putting their foot down and telling their child that they find their refusal to attend school unacceptable. Alternatively you can emphasise the fact that unless they put the hard work in they will be unable to fulfil their dream of being a doctor or a policeman or whatever it is.”

Give your child a headstart

Give your child a headstart

  • FREE articles & expert information
  • FREE resources & activities
  • FREE homework help
By proceeding you agree to our terms and conditions. For information on how we use your data, see our privacy policy. You will receive emails from us but can opt out at any time.