Communicating with School / Health and Wellness / Special Education / Ages 5-18

School Isn't Working for My Kid. Now What?

Not every school is right for every child—but for some families, it can feel especially hard to find a good match for your kid. What can you do when school and your kid don’t seem to fit?

Schools vary widely in their approach to teaching and learning, and all students deserve the chance to learn in the right environment for them. Unfortunately, a good match isn’t always easy to find—and for some students, some common aspects of schooling just don’t work that well. What can a parent do when school isn’t a good fit for your kid?

Seeing your child struggle in school is painful, there’s no way around it. You just want to see your baby thrive, right?

Although there are many different kinds of schools out there, there are common elements that are present in most public (and many private) schools, and some of these things can be tough for some kids. For example:

  • There’s usually a lot of sitting and listening in school.
  • Students have to follow a lot of rules.
  • Fidgeting and free movement is often considered a distraction.
  • There are a lot of transitions throughout the day, and students have to stick to a pre-existing schedule.
  • Students are expected to complete homework and bring it back on time.
  • There isn’t a lot of outdoor time and “downtime” can be short.
  • Most students, especially in elementary and middle school, don’t get a lot of choice in their daily activities at school.

For many kids, the transitions that come with the start of a new school year can be tough. But what if your child’s struggles continue beyond the first couple months?

As their caretaker, you know them best. If you’ve gotten through the first few months of the school year and your child is still exhibiting signs that they’re struggling—for example, they’re miserable going to school on a daily basis, homework is a nightly battle, or they are struggling socially—it’s time to take the next step.

Here are some things to consider as you talk about this with your child and their teacher.

(For older students, their guidance counselor, dean, assistant principal, or another involved school staff member would be the best point person.)


What’s going well?

This is the first question to ask. Is there a class or subject that’s working better than others? What’s happening there? Consider which strategies could be applied elsewhere to support your child. For example, maybe they have more space to move around the classroom, or a teacher who lets them sit in the front of the room, or they’re doing more hands-on learning. Consider asking if you can observe your child in school in person (if it wouldn’t be too disruptive). It might give you more information about what’s working and what isn’t working for them.


Could there be a physical limitation affecting their ability to engage in school?

Have they had their vision checked recently, for example? Can they hear everything the teacher is saying?


Are there reasonable accommodations that could be made to support them?

Even if your child does not have an IEP, their school might be able to offer some accommodations that could help them in meaningful ways. For example, their teacher might be able to create a work area where they could stand instead of sit, or allow them to carry a fidget or comfort object.


Have they been evaluated for special education services?

If not, it might be time to consider an evaluation to determine if they could have a neurodevelopmental disorder (like attention deficit disorder or autism) or a learning disability (like dyslexia) that is affecting their experience in school.


Is there a mismatch between teacher and student?

Sometimes, unfortunately, a teacher just isn’t a good fit for a particular student. Most schools will resist moving a student to a different classroom because class assignments tend to take multiple factors into account—and schools can’t accommodate every family’s preference. But if you feel that your child’s challenges are directly related to their relationship with the current teacher, it’s worth discussing with your principal.


If all else fails and your child continues to struggle, is there a different local school that would work better?

Switching schools is never something to take lightly, and it isn’t always an option. But if you live in a school district where you have other schools to choose from for next year, it might be worth considering. Your district likely also offers some kind of “hardship transfer” option for students who really need it; it may be worth calling the student registration office to find out what the process looks like. Finally, your community might have public charter schools or magnet schools that take a different approach to instruction, or private schools that may offer financial aid. It’s worth calling around or seeking out other local parents with different experiences to find out what’s available in your area, so you can weigh up all your options. 

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