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Ask Dr. Meg: My middle schooler doesn’t like school. What should I do?

When your child doesn't like school, something is going on at school. You have to get to the bottom of it.
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Last Updated
April 22, 2019
posted on
March 2, 2022
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4 min
Minute Read

Dr. Meg,

I’m having trouble with my eleven-year-old son. He started middle school last fall, but he doesn’t like it. He’s very bright, but he’s isolating himself and struggling with making friends. At home, he’s easily offended. He cries and yells and says his feelings are hurt often and seems to be taking it out on us.

How can I handle these situations?

Sincerely,

Parent of a Preteen

Dear Parent of a Preteen,

I’m sorry to hear about the struggles you’re having with your son. I know things feel incredibly difficult right now. I also know you are doing a great job as his parent. So don’t get discouraged!

My first instinct is something is going on at school that’s causing him to not like it and to act out and isolate at home. Maybe he’s being bullied, or he feels like his teachers don’t like him, but something there is the culprit.

I know he’s a good student, but he could have a learning issue such as dyslexia, a problem with math, or something else that’s making school feel uncomfortable.

Regardless of the underlying issue, it sounds like once he has one or two bad feelings, those feelings snowball, and the longer those feelings go unresolved the more he will dislike school.

Whether it’s a social issue—such as bullying—or a learning issue, once you get to the bottom of the problem, you will be able to better address his behavior. Here are a few suggestions to help you uncover what that underlying issue might be:

1. Get him tested for any type of learning disability.

A psychologist can conduct an extensive battery of tests that includes testing for ADHD and anxiety disorders.

2. Find out if other boys are being mean to him.

Ask if someone is saying something to him at school that bothers him. Be careful with your tone as you ask this. Don’t reveal that you feel sorry for him or are pitying him. If he knows you feel sorry for him, he may not tell you the truth because he doesn’t want to upset you. Ask him in a direct, matter-of-fact manner.  

3. Don’t let him bail.

Don’t resort to homeschool right away. Get to the bottom of the issue first. If things are still unresolved or the school is the culprit, he may need a different school. But don’t let your first resort be to pull him out.

School can be an overwhelming environment for kids and pre-teens. The social environment is confusing, the schoolwork is challenging, and the days can feel very long. I’m sure your son will be able to adjust once you can work out what’s going on. Hang in there, for your and your son’s sake.

Sincerely,

Dr. Meg

Parents, if you found this answer helpful, be sure to join my online parenting community, Parenting Great Kids. I answer questions there regularly from parents of kids of all ages and stages. You can post a question on our chat page or check out any of my existing Ask Dr. Meg videos that are available in the community. Click here to join today! 

Dr. Meg Meeker, MD

Practicing pediatrician, parent, grandparent, coach, speaker, and author. Say hello @MegMeekerMD

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