Why isn't my young child happy at school?
|This chapter is adapted from an article written by Margaret Fitch of Calgary. A mother who has seen five children through the school system (early immersion, late immersion, and the English program), Mrs. Fitch has also taught at the elementary level and been involved with preschool programs, a day care and an alternative elementary school. The article first appeared in the CPF Alberta Newsletter 40, fall 1993, p. 8.|
Many parents wonder if they’re doing the right thing when they enrol their children in French immersion, and this self-doubt can escalate whenever a child seems unhappy. The first reaction may be to blame the program. This is unhelpful if something else is the real problem, as is usually the case. Blaming the immersion program might delay dealing with the true cause of the unhappiness—and perhaps deny a child the gift of a second language.
If your child seems unhappy, how can you get at the root of the problem? Considering the following questions might help.
Is he or she enjoying kindergarten?
In kindergarten, your child will be concentrating most of their energy on adapting to the demands of school life. To them, the language will likely be incidental. If they complain about not wanting to go to school or not liking school, or seem especially tired after school, chances are it isn’t the French immersion program that is causing the problem. It could be your child’s separation from you, loss of daycare buddies, or getting used to the classroom rules and routines which is upsetting them. Try asking them about their day (for example, what they like doing, what they don’t like doing), and talk with their teacher about how they’re settling in and what you can do to help. See “The Gentle Approach.”
Does my child feel uncomfortable with the teacher?
Especially in the early grades, the teacher-student relationship is vital. To understand what is bothering him or her, encourage them to talk about school. Meet with the teacher, and, if possible, observe the class in action. Keep lines of communication open in order to address concerns as soon as they arise.
Is it early in the school year?
Every year begins with an adjustment period. How long it takes depends on the child’s personality and many other factors. Because French language teachers come from many different places, a child may have trouble understanding the new teacher’s accent and turns of phrase. Time will solve this, so counsel patience. Meeting people from other parts of the country and the world is one of the enriching aspects of French immersion.
Does my child have friends and enjoy play times?
Or does he or she feel lonely, teased, or picked on? A child’s self-esteem is of primary importance, and, for many, friends can be one of the best parts of attending school. If this is more than an occasional worry, take action to head off long-term problems. Invite classmates for visits and outings. Since athletic ability is so important, boys especially need to develop some basic skills that others will respect (however, don’t push a child to excel in sports if that isn’t their “thing”). Girls seem to form cliquey friendship groups early, so a daughter might need some morale-boosting if she’s feeling left out.
Does my child seem overtired or worried about being far from home?
Especially if your child is bused, he or she may need more sleep, fewer extracurricular activities, or more high-energy snacks in the morning. If you can drop in or volunteer sometimes, he or she will be thrilled and feel more secure. Young children also need the security of knowing that someone will collect and care for them if they become ill at school.
Does my child usually feel well at school?
Or does he or she have symptoms of allergies and environmental sensitivities such as chronic feelings of tiredness, headaches, stomach aches, a runny nose, sore throat or eyes, or “colds” that drag on and on? Perhaps he’s bothered by something in the school (dust, moulds, cleaning products, duplicating fluids, chemicals from labs, etc.). Consult your family doctor and/or an allergist. Read about new research and suggestions. Contact a parents’ allergy association.
Does the teacher complain that my child doesn't sit still, doesn't concentrate, daydreams, works slowly?
Find out whether this is a minor problem or a major one that seriously interferes with learning. All young children find it hard to sit still; only a few have ongoing difficulty. A daydreamer might be bright and bored. A slow worker might be super-conscientious. If your child is doing fairly well anyway, don’t worry.
On the other hand, a grade 1 student may not be ready for the demands of school because of his personality, background or maturity level. Or there may be a learning disability that requires diagnosis and help.
In any case of difficulty with schoolwork, cooperate with the teacher to find solutions. Try not to make your child feel worried or pressured to perform beyond his or her ability. Self-confidence is essential for learning. If a child doesn’t feel confident that he or she can succeed, they won’t even want to try.
For more, see: But My Child Is...!
Is this a school problem or a home problem?
Home is the most important thing in a young child’s life. If he or she is worried or unhappy about that, they won’t be able to concentrate on school work.
Try to establish a home atmosphere where feelings are shared and problems are aired. Make it easy for your child to confide in you by being available, interested and non-judgmental. Also, don’t assume that what seems small and unimportant to you is the same for your child. To him or to her, it may seem huge. If you treat it lightly, they may stop telling you things that you need to hear. You have to play this one by ear, because overreacting is also risky. Your child may simply want a sympathetic listener and be horrified if you rush off to confront someone, or otherwise “make waves.”
If there is a problem at home—such as a serious illness, the death of a family member or a well-loved pet, a separation—you may want to consider letting the teacher know so that he or she can take this into account when dealing with your child.
Is there a specific school situation which needs to be addressed?
Of course, there could be a difficulty connected with the actual school program, with the way certain classes or subjects are being taught, shortages of books or other supplies, and so on. These are often the same sorts of problems that could arise in the English program, and the same advice applies. Work with others—the teacher, the principal, other parents—to get them resolved. Your school council and an active Canadian Parents for French chapter can be very helpful in addressing a specific school situation.
Keep things in perspective!
Of course, you won’t face all these problems, but over the course of the years you may meet some of them. No one ever promised that parenting would be easy! But it is very rewarding. If you keep the lines of communication open, respect your child’s opinions, encourage independence, help when you can, and don’t give up on loving, some day you’ll be the proud friend of a bilingual adult—and the problems that once loomed so large will almost be forgotten.