When a kid is unhappy at school: To move or not to move?

Q: “When do you know if a school is not suited for your child? We are in a difficult situation, as one of my sons is in a school which we as parents both feel is not good for him. This is due to him one being bullied and picked on regularly. We have addressed this with the school, but not much has been done to resolve it. My child is not always innocent, but he is an easy target as he is very sensitive, and socially awkward. His class are so horrible to him, they don’t even talk to him. It’s very sad. He has one friend and does not want to leave because of this, but we as parents feel strongly this is not the right place for him. Any advice would be helpful as we don’t want to move him and make a mistake. But we also are worried about leaving him and watching as what confidence he has left is completely destroyed.”

A: ” It seems that he may do well with a bit of counselling. Socially, he may well struggle, which means changing schools won’t mend the underlying issue.”

” Get the WCED involved if the school is not doing anything to resolve the problem. Bullying is very serious and needs to be dealt with. Before taking this step you could approach the headmaster and request a meeting with the school governing body to bring this to their attention and let them know that you will be forced to go the WCED way if they do not attend to the problem to your satisfaction. It must be hell for your young one to go to school every day under these circumstances and that is unacceptable!”

” We kept our eldest daughter at her high school, on recommendation from the school counsellor, which was the worst decision we could ever had made. I wish we had moved her…. It might have made her high school experience a happy one, not one filled with severe anxiety and unhappiness.”

” My child was at the same school from Nursery school till mid Grade 11. She was bullied countless times and begged me to move her. I felt that wherever she went she would take her problems with her (there were many). We eventually moved her mid grade 11 and she thrived. Problems did occur but she was happier, despite being bullied in the new school, too. Not an easy decision.”

” Best decision I made was moving my kids from a school that was just not conducive to their educational well being. Moved from private to public and not a single regret! If your child is unhappy and the school is not doing anything, move them rather. My only regret is not moving them sooner.”

” A friend whose child was unhappy, finally moved her daughter, after a long time of “battling it out.” She has just told me that her daughter is blossoming and has finally found her niche. She counselled me that when you see or hear “red flags,” ( a child telling you that they are not happy, ongoing social issues, disappointing academic results,) over a period of time, not to ignore them. I have three children and have definitely made myself more aware and to stay present when they talk about their school experiences. I think again this is a case of where you know your own child and if you turn off the “noise” that normally surrounds these decisions, we instinctively know what is right for our own children.”

” Before you make any moves, arrange some counseling for him to help identify overarching issues, assist the transition (if it happens), build his self-esteem , and encourage some emotional growth and a more independent mindset. It can also help with his anxiety.
Also discuss with him how in a new environment we have the opportunity to be someone “new”, without history, and how amazing it is in life to have these chances to become someone we could never have imagined in our old environment. Don’t downplay the challenges of a move, but rather validate his anxieties around it, without pandering to them or allowing him to sink into a victimized mindset.
Separate to the school move (and do it if you feel its the right thing), I just want to reiterate again that counselling can be a huge. huge gift to a child who is socially awkward. Sometimes they need a little coaching, but they also need to be heard in a healthy and non-judgemental space, and to develop skills which help them navigate the often scary world out there. And they need to know they have an ally with whom they can offload, share successes, and learn to accept themselves warts and all.”

” My son was badly bullied at age 11. Having a deep sense of duty, often class captain and an insanely hard worker =particularly in creative and innovative things… also doing things like calling out smokers behind the loos and whatnot made him a real target for the “cool crowd” .. – By the time I woke up and removed him from the school it was too late… he is 23 now and still not really recovered. — He “Reinvented” himself and is now super “cool” but lost so much of his innocence and that drive to work hard and be dutiful. — Please do something drastic. Especially if the school is not standing up for him. Make him a part of the decision on how to proceed. Maybe karate or boxing lessons instead of removing him if he doesn’t want to go? — Just make sure he knows you have his back… Bullies behave out of a place of insecurity and inferiority … make sure he understands this. — Definitely involve him in what is decided – or you could have even bigger problems on your hands…”

” 4 years ago I watched my 9 year old son get bullied every day and I couldn’t see a solution. The teachers and principal tried to help but it didn’t stop. We live in a rural area and have a small town close by. Our options were very limited. Eventually we made the decision to move him and overnight he was a happier child. He has lots of friends, loves his school and is really thriving. Sometimes you simply can’t make other children see it from your child’s perspective. As daunting as it may be for all of you, a fresh start may be the best solution. What I did was let my son go to the new school for the day. The other kids were so welcoming and considerate as were the teachers and he immediately felt the difference. He wanted to go there straight away.”

” There are very few quick magical fixes when parenting vulnerable children. There also might not be a perfect school. Often behavioral issues ( including exclusion, bad choices, unhappiness etc) can be carried by a child from school to school.
When you have a child in this situation the first thing to be done is to get the right support – from the school ( of it’s that kind of school,) from professionals outside of school too if you can afford. Try to get a grip on what the deeper, realistic issues are before making a knee jerk move. Also beware of expecting a school to sort out your kids emotional issues – even with the best will in the world that is not their purpose. Then there are some kids who are just not happy at school. We moved a kid and in retrospect – not the best idea. But there might not be a “best move” – just a series of opportunities to support your child through challenges and hurdles. That being said, an educational psychologist could give you a good second opinion …”

” I would say move him as soon as possible – look at the options available, visit the schools, let him spend an hour/a day there and let him help you make the choice. I wish I had listened to my gut in Grade 5, when I wanted to move my son, and had a place elsewhere. Unfortunately I listened to other people who didn’t understand my child, including his father. He was very sporty and played A team everything, so we allowed that to keep us there, even though he was never happy.  In the middle of the last term of Grade 10, I knew he was beyond anxious and still unhappy. Within a week of us taking him to see a prospective school,( which had no sport offering!) and him spending a couple of hours in a class and coming out saying that he wanted to move – we moved him! The change in him is fantastic to see. Still a cheeky, horrid, smelly teenager but a happy one and is FINALLY achieving academically and building self-confidence and self-esteem. AND playing great club sport. Best decision EVER and only sad that I didn’t do it before – perhaps he wouldn’t have needed to repeat a year.”

” It’s a tough one. I chose to keep my daughter in her current school even though she wasn’t happy. We did many sessions with the counselor giving her skills to cope. She also left the crowd she was in and made new friends. This year is much better although she would probably still choose to move. Her grades are good and she has learned resilience and how to handle the bitchy ‘cool’ girls. She is 14.”

” I worry about the first instinct always being to whip children out of tough situations. I understand that it’s extremely hard to both hear your child, acknowledge their sadness and find a way to make them happier, and still balance that with the need to teach them survival skills. Sometimes you can benefit from slugging it out in a tough place. Things can change. And not always for the worst. Resilience, toughness, adaptability, and the understanding that not everyone needs to be their friend is important. Being unhappy and overcoming it, is important. But if you feel you’ve exhausted all the possibilities of those good things and that he’s only going to be unhappy, then I’d move him.”

” Listen to your child.”

” There is a school for every child.”

” Your son sounds like a very strong little man. With being bullied and picked on a regular basis, he is still prepared to stick it out at the school he’s in. It’s great that he still does not want to leave his one friend – to me that shows a very strong individual and you should be very proud and never want to change that. I know you mentioned he is sensitive and socially awkward, but as we adults know, many tweens are socially awkward. So maybe he is not as different or as alienated as you think? But maybe moving is still a better option. I would chat to him and say that you will do all possible to keep the friendship going with his friend at his current school, but that you would like to give him the opportunity to attend a school that appreciates his amazing character and strength.  I hope changing schools will allow him to be the individual strong person that he sounds like he is -and keep his friend too. “

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