Helping Students Unhappy at School

Q: My very bright daughter in middle school transferred to a magnet school this year. She has been quite unhappy because she is no longer the best in her class like she was in her old school. What can I say to help her handle this situation?

A: Many children who attend magnet schools are faced with the same problem, not that this makes it easier for your daughter. Of course, you can point out that there will always be students who are better than she is.

You can also say that high school sports stars are not always college stars, nor are college stars always big in the pros. While this is true, it is hardly likely to be a satisfying answer for students of any age. It is very difficult for bright students to accept no longer being the best.

The best approach is to focus on how much she has learned since she started this magnet school. Remind her over and over again how much more she is learning. Point out what a great advantage this will be later on when she is in high school since it will give her an edge over her classmates.

Should the situation get too bad with your daughter unable to move beyond not being the best student, she could leave the magnet school. This is probably not a good solution, however, since she will then feel that she has failed. What she needs, of course, is affirmation of her success at this school.

Q:My daughter, a second-grader, is a fidgeter. The fidgeting doesn’t bother the other students and is not affecting the good work she does in school. She says that she fidgets because she is bored. Should we pay any attention to this? Her biggest problem in school is that her printing is totally unreadable. How can we help her improve her printing?

A: Don’t worry about your daughter’s fidgeting. She could be a little bit hyperactive, but she is coping well if this is the case. Many successful adults are fidgeters. The real problem is your child’s poor printing. It doesn’t sound like a new problem, but one that started in kindergarten when she first picked up a pencil.

Guided practice is probably needed to improve her printing. Go back to the beginning and work with groups of letters that are related because they are generally made of straight lines or curves. Start by having her trace the letters; then she can connect dashes to form the letters.

Finally, have her write the letters without any aids. If this doesn’t work, she may require more intervention to improve her printing. There is always the possibility of a learning disability in this area.

Incidentally, this problem with printing could disappear when your child begins to use cursive handwriting. It is much easier for some children to do and is taught before printing in many countries.

Q: I am at a loss. My 10-year-old son, who is in sixth grade, absolutely hates school and wants to quit as soon as he can. When I ask why, all he says is that school is stupid. I suggested that he talk to a counselor, but he says he won’t talk to anyone. Homework is a nightmare with him screaming and crying. On the positive side, he has a lot of friends, and my husband and I spend a lot of time doing activities with him, from movies to sports.

A: Your son appears to be young for his grade level. He may not be developmentally ready for the challenges that he faces in sixth grade. The first thing to do is to find out from his teachers if he seems to have the skills to handle his classes. If not, ask for their recommendations on how to help him this summer. Considering his aversion to school, a tutor, possibly a college student, could be a good choice.

Your son definitely needs to see a counselor. Don’t worry if he says he will not talk. What he is really saying is that the counselor will find out what is bothering him. Children in significant stress want to get better but don’t know how. The counselor will know how to talk to your son and how to help him.

Parents can send questions to Dear Teacher at

A good tool for parents to use this summer is the online Scholastic Summer Reading Buzz program at

Just choose the grade your child will enter next school year and find printable best bets for summer reading. There’s also a section just for parents with tips for reading aloud with your child and information on how to help your child learn to love reading at every age and stage.

Categories: Development, Early Education, Health, Health and Development, SK Health & Wellness