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My Kindergartener hates school all of a sudden. Help!

by Dr. Heather Wittenberg | August 29, 2011 | Child Development | Kindergarten Readiness

School has started already here in Hawaii, but there’s no aloha in Aiden’s heart. Aiden is a new Kindergartener who started the year with enthusiasm, all ready for his “Big Boy Classroom.”  His first couple of weeks at school were a breeze – he loved his teachers, his classmates and activities.  But all of a sudden, Aiden hates school.  Now, his parents have to drag a screaming child into class every morning.  “What happened?” they wonder.

Aiden’s parents worry that something must be going awfully wrong in the classroom. Or maybe he just wasn’t ready for Kindergarten after all? Aiden’s parents, teachers, and doctor decided several months ago that he was more than ready (I’ve listed my top Kindergarten readiness factors here ). His readiness didn’t somehow evaporate over the summer. Something else must be going on.

That “something” is Aiden’s growing realization that, “This Kindergarten thing is my new life. I have to go there every day! I thought it was fun at the beginning, but this is a big step for me — and it sure is easier at home!”

Poor Aiden can’t be blamed for changing his mind about Kindergarten. After all, to him, “starting school” really only meant “going and having fun for a few days.” You know – like it looks on TV. Kids go to school for a while, do fun projects and ride around on a cool school bus.  Aiden didn’t quite grasp the concept of “being in school the entire rest of his childhood.” But he’s starting to get the picture – and it sure seems awfully difficult.

Because a five or six year-old still has, in many ways, a preschool mind-set. We expect  Kindergarteners to be a “Big Kids” and go to the “Big Kid Schools,” yet emotionally, they’re still more similar to the squirrely preschoolers they were last year. Kindergarten is a great boost for Aiden’s development. But it will be quite a challenge until he adjusts.

So, what to do?

  • By and large, “Kindergarten hating” is temporary, normal and not cause for undue concern. Talk with your little one about school. Listen to his fears, and clarify any confusion he has about his classroom.
  • Be positive, and don’t entertain a discussion about staying at home. Say, “I know it’s hard, but it will get better. We’ll help.”
  • Rely on the teacher for advice and guidance. She goes through this every year. She’ll have suggestions – don’t be afraid to ask.
  • Give it a few weeks. If your child is still upset about going to school, then it’s time to schedule a sit-down meeting with the teacher to explore what might be going on. You’ll also want to observe the classroom in process.

Most of the time, Kindergarten fears and tears evaporate by Halloween. I expect Aiden to be full of aloha by then – and his parents will be left tearfully wondering, “When did my baby get so grown up?”

“It’s Back To School at my house, too. I’ll share with you why my new kindergartener already “hates” recess, how my 21- month-old has started awakening at night again  ̶  and what we’re doing to help ease their transition to this new, busy time of year. I’ll share my own hard-won parenting tips  ̶  tips I’ve “road tested” in my own home  ̶  and fact-checked with the newest, best child-development research. I can’t wait to “talk” with all of you online with our new video format!” Wednesday, August 31, 9:00 pm Eastern.