At some point, your kids will complain about school. How do you know if it’s a normal part of adolescence or something more serious? Willow educators weigh in on five signs that indicate it may be time for a change:
SIGN 1: Your child consistently refuses or tries to avoid going to school. It’s normal for kids to occasionally grumble about going to school, especially in Grades 6-8 when school can start before 8:00 a.m. If your child consistently shows signs of anxiety, or continually stalls or finds ways to avoid going to school, that should be a cause for concern. Sarah Miller, Willow’s Middle School Director and Latin Teacher, says that your child’s behavior on Sunday evenings may offer a clue. “If your child is overly anxious on Sunday nights, consistently dreads Mondays, or just won’t get dressed on Monday morning, that could be a sign of something more serious,” Miller says. Miller suggests parents set an earlier bedtime and prep for the next school day by laying out clothes and packing knapsacks the night before. “If you’ve tried getting more organized and making sure your child gets more sleep, and the situation doesn’t improve, there might be something else going on,” she advises.
SIGN 2: Your child’s academic needs are not being met. Is your child constantly bored or uninterested in school? Does he or she get frequent reprimands for talking or not sitting still in class? This could indicate that your current school isn’t engaging your child in meaningful and challenging work. “If you’re seeing a lot of worksheets, workbooks, and rote work come home, that could factor into why your child seems so uninspired by school,” explains Willow’s Assistant Head of School Meagan Coy. “In our experience, we see students take risks and rise to new challenges when they connect their learning to the world around them. That involves more project-based learning.” Conversely, if your child seems overwhelmed by the amount of work or homework at his or her current school and is struggling to complete assignments, that’s another indicator that academic needs are not being met. During this critical time, your child needs to be learning time management and other executive functioning skills in a supportive environment, not just completing worksheets.
SIGN 3: Your child’s social-emotional needs are not being met. Your child’s ability to learn depends on more than academics. A strong social-emotional curriculum fosters meaningful relationships between faculty and students, bolsters community, and creates an environment of mutual respect. An emphasis on social-emotional learning is especially important in the middle school years, according to Miller. “Kids are far less likely to share information with parents at this age,” she notes. “But if your child becomes emotionally withdrawn, that could be a sign that something is up.” Significant changes in sleep, eating habits and social patterns, e.g., a sudden decrease in scheduled plans with friends, could all signal that your pre-teen is not thriving socially and emotionally at school.
SIGN 4: Your child is experiencing bullying or cyberbullying. Parents are often the last to learn their child is being bullied because kids may feel afraid or embarrassed to bring it to their attention. The changes in demeanor cited in Sign 3 could certainly also indicate bullying. If your child has sudden difficulty sleeping, it could stem from anxiety about getting bullied at school. A dramatic shift in friends, sudden lack of friends, or exclusion from after school events are other concerning signals. Coy cautions, “Bullying isn’t always physical.” Relational aggression, purposely targeting another student to hurt their social standing or reputation, is common among middle school girls. Eye rolling, spreading rumors, or sending hurtful messages and posts on social media are indicators of relational aggression. “It can all happen under the radar of adult attention,” continues Coy. “Sometimes girls don’t even realize they’re being bullied; relational aggression is far more insidious and harder to rectify.” A positive, child-centered school culture not only addresses bullying when it happens, it prevents it by creating a strong, communicative community of students, teachers, administrators, and parents.
SIGN 5: Leadership is lacking. There’s a reason why kids are less likely to speak up, advocate for themselves or others, or take on leadership roles as they move into middle school. “There’s always going to be a certain amount of pressure to fit in rather than stand out,” says Willow’s Director of Admissions Lisa VanderVeen. The standalone nature of so many middle schools (Grades 6-8) or a Grades 6-12 environment can exacerbate the issue. If you’ve noticed your child purposely fading into the background more and more, you may want to look at a preschool or kindergarten to Grade 8 school that is intentionally designed for leadership. As the oldest students in the school in this model, middle schoolers have substantial responsibilities within the school and serve as role models and mentors to younger students. “Middle schoolers blossom in this environment,” adds VanderVeen. “They have an opportunity to lead that they don’t have when they’re in a standalone middle school environment, and, at the same time, they don’t experience the pressure to grow up fast that students often feel in a combined middle/high school model.”
If your middle schooler is unhappy in school, it can be hard to tell if it’s a phase or something more serious. Willow’s middle school experts are here to help! Sign up for a visit to Willow to discuss your child’s current school situation, identify what to look for in your middle school options, and see if Willow is right for your family.