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Every parent’s worry: what to do if your child is unhappy at school

School can be a difficult place for some kids. Whether they have friendship group issues, a lack of rapport with their teacher or struggle with the academic demands, there are many factors that can result in a child having a tough time at school.

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So how can you tell if your child is simply ‘going through a phase’ or is truly unhappy at school?

Some of the key signs include:

  • Misbehaviour or breaking school rules
  • Having few social connections at school
  • Regularly complaining about the school, school work, teachers or other students
  • Poor academic performance, particularly if there is a sudden decline in performance or if external testing reveals much greater aptitude than school results suggest
  • Lacking motivation to complete schoolwork, or having little interest in the content
  • Frequent illness or regular complaints of illness which may not have a medical basis
  • Trying to get out of going to school or skipping classes
  • Significantly improved mood during school holidays
  • Actually asking to change schools or to be home-schooled

While these signs can be troubling for parents, it’s important to remember that there are plenty of things you can do to improve your child’s situation at school.

Here are six steps you can take to make school a happier place for your child:

1. Talk to your child

Of course you talk to your child every day and no doubt include questions such as ‘how was school?’, but try to make more specific inquiries to figure out what’s really going on. Questions like, ‘who did you play with at recess and lunch?’ and ‘what did the teacher say or do when that happened?’ can provide you with a clearer insight into your child’s actual school life.

2. Talk to the teacher

Teachers are busy people (some teach up to 150 different students each day!) so it’s possible that they haven’t noticed subtle changes in your child’s behaviour or attitude to school. Make them aware of the issue and try to work out a plan to resolve the situation together.

3. Talk to the principal

If talking to the teacher hasn’t resulted in the desired changes, approach the principal for a meeting. They are in a position to provide a more holistic solution to the problem.

4. Get a tutor or help out with schoolwork yourself

If the issue is more to do with academic performance, a tutor can offer specific strategies to address learning problems and be a source of increased confidence for the child. Alternatively, sitting down with your child and working through tasks together can give you more knowledge about the work and how your child is doing.

5. Look at extracurricular activities

These can be a great motivator for kids and may help them to develop friendships and gain confidence. However, just make sure they don’t take up too much time and don’t reduce a student’s focus on their schoolwork.

6. Consider changing schools.

This step involves the biggest change for your child. It is worth considering, however, because research shows that students who feel disconnected at school are more likely to suffer from depression and other mental health issues. If your child is genuinely unhappy and, despite your efforts, the situation isn’t improving, changing schools could be the best thing for your child.

With School Places, you needn’t wait for a new year to start. Most private schools will accept new enrolments all year, with some offering a discount for last minute vacancies that have become available.

Having a child who is unhappy at school is one of the most heartbreaking things for a parent to deal with. Thankfully there are a number of steps you can put in place straight away to help address what might be causing their unhappiness.

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