How to Handle the Top 7 Complaints About School

At some point in their academic career, almost every child or teen will complain about school. Sometimes kids are just echoing a friend's complaint. Sometimes they are exaggerating a fleeting moment of frustration with school. Sometimes there is a serious frustration brewing, and the complaints are an early warning sign of trouble.

The following is a list of 7 common complaints that kids say about school. The complaints could be a sign of small frustration or a warning sign of trouble. They could also be the early warning signs of a child who no longer sees the value in school and not feeling motivated to do well—in other words, they are starting to develop a poor attitude.

It's best to avoid jumping to conclusions about what these complaints mean. Take a little time to discuss with your child why they are making the complaint. Each complaint listed has a possible decoded message with some suggestions of what you can do next. There are also responses you can use if your child is just developing a poor attitude about school.

If you find the only reason your child is complaining is that they are not motivated, you will need to take steps to help them learn the value of succeeding in school. It is within the normal range of child and teen development to not understand the distant rewards of good grades and learning. The real rewards of getting an education are years away from being realized by a child or teen.


Why Do I Have to Go to School?

Bored child in class
J-Elgaard/Getty Images

Decoding the Complaint: Like many of the complaints on this list, this one is vague. Your child could be feeling overwhelmed or stressed by something going on at school. This is also a complaint made when a child, usually in their early teen years, begins to question everything in their lives. Remember, it could be hard for children and teens to see the value in doing something that will bring tangible rewards years from today.

How to Respond: Ask your child if they are having any problems at school. You can also ask them "Why are you asking that?" If it turns out they are struggling in school, find ways to support them.

If your child is questioning the value of school and education you can respond with "So we don't have a society full of stupid people." Follow up with explaining that school is where people learn to read and gain other skills necessary in everyday tasks.

You can also tell a tween or teen that knowing how to read, write and think critically about issues is important in our democracy. When they become voters they will be deciding on important issues and selecting who will represent them in government. Making sure that everyone has an education is away to make sure all voters have the tools to make good decisions.


School Is So Hard, I Don't Want to Do It!

Boy who looks grouchy at school.
School is hard may indicate missing skills. PeopleImages via Getty Images

Decoding the Complaint: This complaint could come from a child who is missing some of the skills to do their work. It could be an early warning sign of a learning disability. It may also be that your child has a fixed mindset, and believes that intelligence is only something you are born with, not something you develop through hard work.

Like many of the complaints on this list, the complaint is worded to apply to the whole school experience. Often there is only one or two frustrations that lead to your child feeling that "school is hard."

How to Respond: Ask your child what is hard for them at school. You may find out that your child is having trouble in one subject or on one assignment. Dig a little deeper to see if you can help them find a way to make the work easier, or if you should contact your child's teacher to let them know your child is struggling.

You may also find that your child doesn't like doing challenging work. Let your child know that had work brings all kinds of rewards. People learn more when they are challenges and try new things. Easy work only reinforces what you already can do, it does not expand your knowledge.


I Hate Homework!

Boy not doing homework
Homework complaints could signal trouble. Dan Kenyon via Getty Images

Decoding the Complaint: While homework is rarely fun, there could be several reasons behind this complaint. The more often you hear your child say this, the more likely that you might want to dig a little deeper.

How to Respond: This will depend on the reason behind the complaint.

  • They would rather do homework at a different time as their current time to do homework interrupts something else they would like to do. Respond to this by reviewing their homework routine to see if you can accommodate the other activities and still get homework done.
  • They are struggling with the material. If you sit with your child or teen while they do their work and discover that they don't know what to do, take steps to support them in completing their work and getting outside help if needed.
  • They don't like the idea of having to do school work outside of school. Whether or not to assign homework and how much to assign is a topic that is constantly being reviewed by educators. Your child may raise good points about home being time for family and play, while school should be the place to learn. Let your child know that teachers really do understand these concerns. Today's teachers have to decide what is best for their students, and often times regular practice at home is what will bring the best learning.

School Is So Boring!

Girl looking bored
Boredom at school doesn't always mean that the work is easy. Phillip Lee via Getty Images

Decoding the Complaint: You may be tempted to believe that your child already knows the material being taught at school when they come home with this complaint. Once again, if this complaint gets repeated, dig a little deeper. This complaint can also be a sign of missing skills.

You know how boring it is to sit and listen to someone talk when you have no idea what they are talking about? This is the same feeling kids with missing skills get. Check to make sure your child is keeping up with work they do at home and school.

It may also be that your child's preferred learning style does not match the teacher's style. You may find that your child wishes for more physical activity during the day, or would prefer to spend more time reading texts than listening to their teacher provide explanations.

Your child may also find they are just not interested right now in what they are required to learn at school.

How to Respond: Preferred learning style and level of interest in material actually have something in common: your child may need to learn how to be comfortable when they have to work at being interested. This may be more difficult if they previously had a teacher that they found very interesting.

It is a common misconception that a preferred learning style is the way a child should be taught. Teachers today work hard to present material in a variety of ways. Your child will have better skills by developing the skills to learn when information comes in other formats.

The same idea carries over to learning required material they find uninteresting. Let them know that they will become more rounded and have had the chance to learn something new. They will be developing a solid work ethic for their future.

The exception to telling your child it is best to learn to deal with boredom is children with learning disabilities. Some learning disabilities mean a child needs instruction that is tailored to their learning styles and abilities. If your child is not only bored but is having problems even understanding what is going on in the classroom, you may want to let the teacher know what you are seeing.


Why Can't I Just Homeschool or Do Online Learning?

Teen boy using computer in room
Online public school has strong work demands. Hero Images via Getty Images

Decoding the Complaint: Usually this comes from kids who believe that online or homeschool will be less work, maybe even no work at all. Your child may have met kids who have shorter work days in these alternate schooling formats.

How to Respond: Let your child know that online and homeschool also require children to work hard to learn required material. The shorter work days come from not including commute time, lunch and recess. Brick and mortar schools also make it easy to meet and see friends every day. Online and homeschoolers do make friends, but it takes a little more effort, especially in the beginning.

If your child is still interested in online or homeschooling after they have had a little reality check, you may want to consider their viewpoint. Both of these formats have made great strides to provide quality education in recent years, but they aren't for everyone.

Many U.S. states now offer online public school. Middle and high schoolers can even do a combination of brick and mortar and online classes now.


I Don't Like Getting Up Early!

Teen sleeps on couch.
Kids and teens need more hours of sleep than most adults. Westend61 via Getty Images

Decoding the Complaint: Your child or teen probably really does feel tired, especially in the mornings. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, many teens are sleep deprived. Sleep research suggests that tweens and teens should have later school start times than what many schools are able to provide.

How to Respond: Talk with your child or teen to make sure they are getting to bed regularly at a bedtime that will provide enough hours of rest for them each evening. Also be sure that they have turned off all electronic media devices before bed.

If your child or teen continues to have problems getting to sleep or getting enough sleep after having an established bedtime, talk with your pediatrician about other ways to help.


The Teacher/Other Kids/Principal Are Mean

Girl standing away from a group of teens.
Sometimes kids feel that they don't fit in. fstop123 via GEtty Images

Decoding the Complaint:Your child feels like others do not like them. Talk to them and see if they can tell you exactly what behaviors these other people do that lead your child to call these people mean. do that lead your child to call these people mean.

Teachers and school staff are each individual people who may have very warm personalities or a more detached demeanor. Sometimes children and teens believe that the school staff who are in charge of discipline are automatically cold or mean.

If your child is complaining about other children at school it may be the result of needing better social skills, whether it is the other children or your own.

How to Respond: If your child is complaining about school staff you can explain that different people have different ways they relate to one another. Let your child know that teachers and staff who may not seem very personable could be trying to focus on the academic material they are teaching.

If it is a staff person who is in charge of discipline, talk with your child about what it must be like to have that job at the school. You can also ask if your child ever sees that staff person being kind or helpful at school.

If your child describes behavior by school staff that seems clearly disrespectful and unprofessional, you may need to bring it to the attention of the school.

If your child describes a pattern of disrespectful and mean behavior from other students, of any physical violence, or bullying from other students, you should bring the issue up to the school principal so that the safety and well-being of children can be improved.

Complaining: A Sign of a Problem or Looking for Empathy?

Every child or teen will occasionally complain about school. Knowing what might be behind the complaints can help you to find out how to help your child address their frustration. Perhaps they need some help with their school work. Maybe they just need some guidance, or someone to acknowledge the hard work they are putting into their education.

1 Source
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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Let Them Sleep: AAP Recommends Delaying Start Times of Middle and High Schools to Combat Teen Sleep Deprivation.

By Lisa Linnell-Olsen
Lisa Linnell-Olsen has worked as a support staff educator, and is well-versed in issues of education policy and parenting issues.