What to Do with a Boy Who Hates School

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Photo by woodleywonderworks via Flickr

My son has been dreading this day since the start of Winter Break.

Today is his day back to school after break, his first day back to a place he calls “prison” and likens to a “chain gang.”

I know he’s not the only kid – and that I’m not the only parent – feeling dread, despair and anxiety today. I HATE sending him to a place he hates. I hate that he hates school – and mind you, it’s school he hates, not learning. This kid of mine is a voraciously curious hands-on learner. Unfortunately for him (and for me, and for his teacher), his school is not a particularly hands-on kind of place. There’s still way too much sit down and be quiet time, at least for an active, hands-on kid.

My son is in 5th grade now, and it hasn’t been an easy road to get him this far. His trouble with school started in 1st grade; the first quarter wasn’t even done yet when I got my first call from his teacher. (The problem? My son’s need for movement landed him in the Red Zone.)

A few months later – after more calls and emails from his teacher, and more complaints from him about school – he came home with what appeared to be a nasty-looking bruise on his lower abdomen. It wasn’t a bruise, though; the mark was really from a black walnut he’d shoved down his pants at recess.

Take that in for a moment: my son smuggled a black walnut into his school in his pants, at age 6. Why? Because he was curious about the object and wanted to throw it.

Perhaps needless to say, spending seven hours in a day an environment that squelches his natural instincts and disrespects his interests has not exactly engendered a love of education in my lad.

Two years ago, his re-entry after winter break was so tough for him – and so heart-breaking for me – that I wrote a Washington Post essay worrying about the effects of school on his spirit. I wrote:

Re-entry after winter break has not been easy for him. The rules and restrictions of school – Sit Still. Be Quiet. Do What You Are Told, Nothing More, Nothing Less. – have been grating on him, and it shows. His teacher recently emailed me; she’d noticed a change in his behavior (more belligerent, less likely to cooperate) and wanted to know if there was anything going on at home.

My guess, I said, was that he was upset about having to be back in school after break. I was right.

The lack of movement and rigid restrictions associated with modern schooling are killing my son’s soul.

That essay touched a chord with so many families! So many parents reached out to me afterward, telling me stories of heartbreak and despair. Amy wrote:

I completely agree with you that our schools are failing boys): I talked to a kinder mama of a boy-and he says EVERY DAY that he doesn’t want to go to school. My heart breaks for this boy…

A teacher named Catherine wrote:

 I teach second grade and have gotten into trouble over taking too many “Brain Breaks.” I have a class of 15 boys and 7 girls – “the gifted class.” I was putting on music every 20 minutes or so and allowing students to move around the classroom for 2 minutes – they could dance or visit. I would let them know that breaks were coming up and my class was much more relaxed. But I was told I couldn’t take as many breaks – that if my instruction was “engaging” then students wouldn’t need a lot of breaks.

Another mom named Amy said:

Thank you for writing and sharing this article… I no longer feel alone in parenting my son.

A dad named David wrote:

Loved your article…I tell the story often of my son’s getting ready for a school year to start.  I went into his room the night before school started – he was entering the 5th grade, I believe – to give him a kiss goodnight, and he was crying.  When I asked why, he told me he didn’t want to go to school the next day.  I tried to lighten his spirit by telling him he’d see all his friends the next day.  To that, he said.  “But Dad, I don’t want to go to school.  I’m an outside person, not an inside person.”

So if your son went back to school reluctantly today, he is not the only one.

If he went kicking and screaming, he is not the only one.

You are not the only parent whose son hates school, nor the only parent who feels torn in two because you don’t know how to help him or what to do anymore. 

There is comfort in those words. But please do not mistake that comfort as an excuse for complacency. If there’s one thing you absolutely CANNOT DO when your son hates school, it’s give up and accept the status quo.

Why? Because all too often, boys who hate school become boys who hate learning. Boys who check out, who become disengaged. Boys who spend less and less time feeding their brains and nurturing their bodies and spirits, and more and more time looking for relief and satisfaction in games and screens.

Boys who hate school often fall behind — in school and in life. They lose their self-confidence. They become angry. Their future options narrow.

You don’t want that for your son. I don’t want that for your son, or for any boy.

That’s why I’ve teamed up with Janet Allison, founder of Boys Alive!, to create a FREE webinar for parents whose boys hate school. Help! My Son Hates School! is the first-offering of it’s kind: aimed at parents, and featuring the combined expertise of two “boy experts,” one of whom is a former teacher and one of whom is an in-the-trenches parent of four boys (that’s me!). Our webinar will help you understand what’s going on with your son and give you some concrete ideas you can use to recapture your son’s love of learning.

Listen: I can’t guarantee that your son will ever love school. Mine clearly doesn’t! What I can guarantee is this: An improved understanding of your son. Decreased stress and anxiety. And a path forward. 

You can take steps to improve your son’s educational experience. You can encourage his curiosity and natural love of learning. And you can work together to find the solutions that work best for your family.

We’ll help. Click here now to reserve your seat for the webinar.  

As for my guy…I’m curious to hear how his day goes. I’ll keep you posted.

Got a friend whose son hate school too? Send her this post. 

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