Uh oh. She hates first grade already

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  September 13, 2012 06:00 AM

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My 6yr old just started 1st grade and hates it. The first 3 days of school were ok. After that she cries every morning on the way to school and into the building. Daughter loved preschool and would cry if she had to miss a day. We didn't have a problem with kindergarten. My child was put into a inclusion class this yr. I am wondering if that has anything to do with her not wanting to go. Her complaint is that she doesn't have any of her friends in her class. I tell her that she has to make new friends. What should i do?

From: Jenn, VA


Dear Jenn,

Talk to the teacher! She needs to know your daughter is unhappy, she (the teacher) may even be part of the problem and not realize it. Your daughter may appear to be fine in class; most children are able to hold it together while they are in school and then fall apart when they get home, where they feel safest. There are lots of things a caring first-grade teacher can do to bring her along, from pairing her with a classmate who's a potential BFF to asking her to help her with a task. Doing something one-to-one with the teacher can be huge. By keeping a closer eye on your daughter, she/he may also be able to see when/where/why she's feel left out or uninvolved.

Without specifics, I can't get into the inclusion piece, but is it that you think she is somehow being singled out? Again, ask the teacher to pay close attention and have an open mind; is it possible your daughter is not receptive to classmates' efforts? Frankly, though, three days is way too soon to judge the social piece. More likely, what typically happens in first grade is that a child sees that this is "real" school -- desks alone can be intimidating. She could be worried: "What if I can't do the work?" She also may be comparing herself to her classmates: "I can't read yet and Sasha can! What if I can't do what the teacher wants?"

Find subtle, off-handed ways to remind your daughter of how competent she is. Ask her to write your grocery list while you dictate as you rummage through the 'fridge. (Obviously, just a few items and, yes, inventive spelling is fine!) Compliment her as she cuts on the line. Can she make a list of all the family members so you can remember birthdays?

Sounds like you're doing a good job of acknowledging her concerns about not having friends. Make playdates with last year's playmates so she can remind herself that she is friend-able. Ask her if there is someone in first grade who she kinda thinks might be a friend. Then, rather than putting the responsibility only on her to "make new friends" -- she might have no idea what that means, specifically; most kids this age don't! -- offer to invite that child for a playdate. If that embarrasses her, get creative: Chat with the mom and just happen to be at the playground at the same time, or at Dunkin'.


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5 comments so far...
  1. Perhaps the daughter is overwhelmed by the other children in the inclusion classroom. Inclusion rooms, for those readers who don't know, is designed to mix children with and without special needs (learning, behavioral, mobility) so positive behaviors and actions can be learned in a cooperative setting. I am a former kindergarten and a current first grade teacher, and I've worked in schools with inclusion rooms that have been total disasters. If there aren't enough resources (or staff members) to help the main teacher handle the special needs students, it can be very troubling to the rest of the class. The daughter might be sensitive to sounds and smells (among other things), all of which can be exacerbated in these types of classrooms. My advice is to talk to the teacher and go and visit the class while all the children are there. The mom should see how the teacher and staff members interact with her child and all the children, and the interactions between the kids. If this resistance/hatred to school continues, the mom should consider switching her to a general education classroom setting. There is no need to force a young child into a setting that is clearly not working for her, why develop a hatred and fear of school at such an early age?

    Posted by Boston Teacher September 13, 12 11:33 AM
  1. My brother ended up in the hospital for undiagnosed stomach complaints due to the stress of his second grade classroom. We older children had all survived Mrs. X's boot camp okay, but my brother did not. To her credit, she approached my mother saying that she may have caused or contributed to the problem. You might visit the class to see what you feel about it, in conjunction with talking with the teacher.

    Posted by Susan September 13, 12 12:21 PM
  1. Boston Teacher, you sound like a wonderful teacher. We are fortunate to have you in our school system!

    Posted by PJ September 13, 12 01:42 PM
  1. Great advice above, plus a few more notes:

    Remember that if you're only at the beginning of the year she's still adjusting on hundreds of levels. She's adjusting to all the things in her new classroom that aren't like her old one (how we line up, how the teacher gets our attention, where recess is, desks vs. tables, etc.) and all the new people (teachers, lunch ladies, nurses, classmates, older kids, younger kids....), plus she's only one her third school year so the summer-to-school shift is especially hard. It could (COULD!) be a case of "I want it back the old way" blues that will resolve themselves. 6 days in I still have kids falling asleep, coming in teary, wanting old teachers, having accidents, looking confused after I've given a direction 6 times...They're little and they're adjusting.

    Ask the teacher how long she cries for. I have had several who flop in the door wailing and stop within 5 minutes of the parent leaving. Sometimes I have a disbelieving parent wait in the hall out of sight to prove it--Literally 4 minutes later they're happy as clams!

    Thanks, Barbara, for the suggestion to talk to the teacher. S/he may have the same concerns, or she may be confident that this is a phase that will last 2-3 weeks because s/he's seen it before. We do like to know these things :)

    Posted by Gr 1 Teach September 13, 12 03:50 PM
  1. I really love all the above advice. The only thing i could add is maybe finding a second hand desk for you to give her at home. that way she can get use to sitting at a desk. Set it up with her own paper and some pencils and colorful markers. Then play school with her being the teacher. in role reversal she may act something out that will give you a hint about what her day is like in school. i know when I played rolreversalle with my daughter, she was always meaner as the mother than I was in real life. While I would laugh at being the naughty child, it also made me think about if that was the way she saw me. Gook luck.

    Posted by Lee Jensen September 15, 12 04:44 PM
 
5 comments so far...
  1. Perhaps the daughter is overwhelmed by the other children in the inclusion classroom. Inclusion rooms, for those readers who don't know, is designed to mix children with and without special needs (learning, behavioral, mobility) so positive behaviors and actions can be learned in a cooperative setting. I am a former kindergarten and a current first grade teacher, and I've worked in schools with inclusion rooms that have been total disasters. If there aren't enough resources (or staff members) to help the main teacher handle the special needs students, it can be very troubling to the rest of the class. The daughter might be sensitive to sounds and smells (among other things), all of which can be exacerbated in these types of classrooms. My advice is to talk to the teacher and go and visit the class while all the children are there. The mom should see how the teacher and staff members interact with her child and all the children, and the interactions between the kids. If this resistance/hatred to school continues, the mom should consider switching her to a general education classroom setting. There is no need to force a young child into a setting that is clearly not working for her, why develop a hatred and fear of school at such an early age?

    Posted by Boston Teacher September 13, 12 11:33 AM
  1. My brother ended up in the hospital for undiagnosed stomach complaints due to the stress of his second grade classroom. We older children had all survived Mrs. X's boot camp okay, but my brother did not. To her credit, she approached my mother saying that she may have caused or contributed to the problem. You might visit the class to see what you feel about it, in conjunction with talking with the teacher.

    Posted by Susan September 13, 12 12:21 PM
  1. Boston Teacher, you sound like a wonderful teacher. We are fortunate to have you in our school system!

    Posted by PJ September 13, 12 01:42 PM
  1. Great advice above, plus a few more notes:

    Remember that if you're only at the beginning of the year she's still adjusting on hundreds of levels. She's adjusting to all the things in her new classroom that aren't like her old one (how we line up, how the teacher gets our attention, where recess is, desks vs. tables, etc.) and all the new people (teachers, lunch ladies, nurses, classmates, older kids, younger kids....), plus she's only one her third school year so the summer-to-school shift is especially hard. It could (COULD!) be a case of "I want it back the old way" blues that will resolve themselves. 6 days in I still have kids falling asleep, coming in teary, wanting old teachers, having accidents, looking confused after I've given a direction 6 times...They're little and they're adjusting.

    Ask the teacher how long she cries for. I have had several who flop in the door wailing and stop within 5 minutes of the parent leaving. Sometimes I have a disbelieving parent wait in the hall out of sight to prove it--Literally 4 minutes later they're happy as clams!

    Thanks, Barbara, for the suggestion to talk to the teacher. S/he may have the same concerns, or she may be confident that this is a phase that will last 2-3 weeks because s/he's seen it before. We do like to know these things :)

    Posted by Gr 1 Teach September 13, 12 03:50 PM
  1. I really love all the above advice. The only thing i could add is maybe finding a second hand desk for you to give her at home. that way she can get use to sitting at a desk. Set it up with her own paper and some pencils and colorful markers. Then play school with her being the teacher. in role reversal she may act something out that will give you a hint about what her day is like in school. i know when I played rolreversalle with my daughter, she was always meaner as the mother than I was in real life. While I would laugh at being the naughty child, it also made me think about if that was the way she saw me. Gook luck.

    Posted by Lee Jensen September 15, 12 04:44 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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