Life is full of ups and downs – and this is particularly true for young children who lack the tools to cope with big emotions. Preschoolers are often not able to verbalise how they feel, and parents can sometimes miss out on the real reason behind their children’s behaviour.
Kids may be unhappy in school for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from run-of-the-mill ones like a small tussle with a friend, to larger ones like being unable to settle into a new class. The key is to be able to quickly pick up on your children’s feelings so that you can find out why they are unhappy and then you can deal with the root issue.
The good thing is that the signs indicating that your children are unhappy in school are quite easy to pick up.
Your child misbehaves more at preschool than usual
When young children encounter a negative emotion such as boredom, frustration, anger or even fear, they may not be able to express the emotion, let alone explain why they are feeling this way.
It is very common for children to express their feelings and to get the attention of an adult by acting out. Misbehaviour could be anything from yelling and shouting, to hitting, kicking and biting others for no particular reason. It could also be as simple as constantly refusing to cooperate with a particular teacher.
If your child has been acting out more than usual, try not to let it trigger you into anger or displeasure. There is likely to be an underlying issue that your child is upset about and unable to handle.
Your child keeps silent when you ask about their day in kindergarten
Most young children are naturally chatty, especially if you ask directed questions about their day. However, if you find that your children are clamming up and avoiding the questions you ask, then there is a good chance that there is something they are upset about.
Rather than pressing them to tell you what is wrong, you can try teasing out the answer by casually asking about specific parts of their day. You may find that they only keep quiet at certain questions.
With older children, it can sometimes help to ask these questions in a lower pressure environment such as during a car ride or over a meal, rather than face to face.
Your child reacts negatively when it is time to head to preschool
Most children are usually happy to head into school and get excited when they see their teachers and friends. Of course, some children simply do not like parting ways with their parents in the morning. Some clinginess can be expected especially if the kids are not early risers or if they do not get much quality time with their parents.
However, it would be a red flag if your children are regularly crying, sobbing and fighting at the school gate, especially if it is unusual behaviour for them. Some may also react by going abnormally quiet, pale or even seem frightened.
Do check in with teachers after you have left as well. A few children settle down very quickly and happily after their parents have left, but if your child continues then that is a sign that they are unhappy at school.
Your child manifests physical symptoms
When children are truly unhappy in a situation, it can often manifest in physical symptoms such as stomach-ache, vomiting and headaches that occur in the morning before school starts.
You may realise that these physical symptoms seem to show up regularly before school and go away when they are at home, yet do not seem to fit any pattern of a known illness.
Emotional upheaval can often cause a lot of stress in children and can actually cause their bodies to react negatively internally due to external stress. It is important to find out what is upsetting your child so much so that you can ease both their emotional and physical anguish.
How do I assess these warning signs?
Remember that children will often have isolated incidents of unhappiness. They may be having a bad week. They may have quarrelled with a friend or perceived some injustice in a teacher’s action – perhaps a teacher chided them for something that they felt was not their fault.
But if there is a series of small events that snowball over a period of several weeks or months that show an alarming trend, you will want to find out what is wrong. Start with your child, as they will often open up eventually at the right time if you tune in to what they are saying. If you have a hard time getting it out of them, your partner could try, or a different family member. Once you know what the issue is, speak to their teacher to work to solve the problem.
Written by Danielle Hee