“HEIDI was homesick” I sobbed, “and so am I.”
Ever the drama queen even at nine years old, Training and Education editor JUDY RILEY found herself identifying with the little Swiss maid who was plucked from her happy rural idyll in the Alps to a lonely new life in the big city…
For what seemed like months – but was probably only a week or two – I cried so hard every day at school that my mother was called to take me home. We were reading Johanna Spyri’s classic children’s story and every time it got to a bit where Heidi felt sad because she missed her Grandfather, her best friend Peter, all the little goats and her home in the mountains, I blubbed inconsolably into my sodden hanky.
We had just moved from the sunny south coast to the relentlessly sprawling streets of an East London suburb. I left all my friends behind, summer days could no longer be spent playing on the beach and, from attending a little single storey, mixed-sex junior school with small classes, I was pitched into a toweringly ugly, red-brick Victorian monstrosity in which the boys were kept away from the girls by high walls, separate entrances and segregated classes that took place on different floors.
Mercifully we got to the end of Heidi and I settled in eventually, of course I did, but the trauma of having to go, every day, to a place that I hated is still an experience that I’d rather forget…
But what happens when you don’t settle down at school? Whether you like it or not, school is a fact of life, and getting an education can help you build the kind of future life you want.
So what’s the best way to deal with ongoing unhappiness and stress at school?
Signs of school stress
When you worry about school, it can affect your body. A kid who feels stressed about school might have headaches or stomachaches. You might feel ‘butterflies’ in your stomach or like you have to throw up.
Having trouble sleeping is also a sign of stress. And if you're not getting enough sleep, you probably feel grouchy and tired during the day. Feeling tired can make your school day seem longer and even worse.
If you're stressed out, you might have a hard time making decisions. In the morning, you can't decide what to eat, what to wear, or what to pack for lunch. You don't want to go to school, so you put off getting your stuff together. And now you're not prepared to go to school, and you've just missed the bus — again! Staying home may seem like a good choice, but it just makes it harder to go to school the next day.
Why do some people dislike school
If you don't like school, the first step is finding out why. You might not like school because a bully is bothering you, or because someone you don't like wants to hang around with you. Or maybe you don't get along with your teacher. You might feel different or worry that you don't have enough friends.
Sometimes it's a problem with your classes and schoolwork. Maybe the work is too easy and you get bored. Or maybe the work is too hard and you don’t cope as well as your classmate seem able to. Reading may be difficult for you, but you're expected to do a lot of it. You may be getting farther and farther behind, and it may seem like you'll never catch up. Maybe you're dealing with worries, stress, or problems that make it hard to concentrate on schoolwork.
When you stop to think about why you don't like school, you can start taking steps to make things better.
It's a good idea to talk to someone about your problems with school. Your mum, dad, carer, relative, teacher, or school counsellor will be able to help you. It's especially important to tell an adult if the problem is that you're being bullied or someone hurts you physically.
Another good idea is to write down your feelings about school in ajournal. You can use a journal or diary or just write in an ordinary notebook. It's a great way to let out emotions that may be stuck inside you. And you don't have to share what you've written with others.
If you feel disorganised or like you can't keep up with your schoolwork, your teachers and school counsellors will want to help. Teachers want and expect you to ask for help while you are learning. If all of your subjects seem really hard, a school counsellor can help you sort things out. Special help with schoolwork is available if you need it.
Try not to let the problems go on too long. It's easier to catch up on one chapter than the whole book!
Feeling better about school
The next time you find yourself disliking school, try this:
First, write down everything you don't like about school.
Then make a list of the good things you enjoy (even if it's only break time and lunch, that's a start!).
Now, what can you change on the "don't like" list? Would remembering to do your homework help you feel more confident if you're called on in class? Can you get help with schoolwork that's hard? Who can you talk to about a worry or problem you're dealing with? Could you find a way to show off your special interests and talents? If you made just one new friend, would you feel less alone? If you helped someone else feel less alone, would you feel even better? Which activities could you try that would help you meet new friends?
Of course, you might not be able to change everything on your "don't like" list. A bully may not simply disappear. Reading may always be a challenge. But that's OK. Focus on what you can change and you might be able to put the cool back in school!