Debi Engstrom's son, John, loved going to preschool, so she assumed he'd love elementary school. And he did -- at first. But by second grade, when coloring and show-and-tell gave way to frequent tests and homework, John had enough. "At the same time that kids are moving from play-based learning into more independent learning, their academics and friendships are also becoming increasingly complex," says Rebecca Branstetter, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who works in San Francisco-area public schools. We'll help you tackle the most common classroom complaints.
Suppose your daughter gets off the bus and complains, "School is dumb! I don't want to go anymore!" Your first instinct is probably to ask "Why?" At this age, however, she may not be able to identify the cause or put it into words, and she might need your help to figure it out. Dr. Branstetter suggests asking "what" questions such as, "What is your least favorite part about your school? What don't you like?" or "What do you think about the other kids in your class?" in order to tease out the underlying issue. Keep in mind, however, that a major interrogation rarely pays off, says Christopher Kearney, Ph.D., director of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Child School Refusal and Anxiety Disorders Clinic.
Ask your child if her teacher or a classmate is making her unhappy, but don't focus solely on bullies. Friends can cause classroom friction too. If the day-to-day drama of shifting BFFs has left your child alone at recess, that could be enough to change her whole attitude about the classroom. If she is getting picked on, embarrassment may keep her from opening up to you. Or perhaps her teacher is a strict disciplinarian and she's having a tough time dealing with this style of authority.
If none of these possibilities ring true, zero in on academics. There's less unstructured time in second and third grade, and your kid could be bummed that with all the work she doesn't have many opportunities to goof around with her classmates. Or a learning issue could be to blame. Kids who are used to having academics come easily may feel frustrated by reading thick chapter books and by harder math concepts such as multiplication and elapsed time.