Why Your Kid Hates School
When you close your eyes and think of your child as a toddler, you remember the smiles. Bright eyes lighting up at the sight of a trash truck or a fairy house. Squeals of delight to speak a word for the first time. Excitement of building—towers, forts, Lego creations. Flights of imagination in a cardboard shipping box, enclosed toy tossed aside. Everything was exploration and discovery, imagination and knowledge.
But the bright light in the eyes of that same child, now in fourth grade, has grown dim. When he comes home from school he grumbles about homework. He doesn’t want to get up in the morning. He loses himself in video games. He says he hates school.
What happened to your joyful, voracious learner and how can you get him back?
For children who love to learn, school has long been a slog. (See Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, and many other world-changers.) It doesn’t make sense on the surface. Shouldn’t kids who love to learn want to go to the place of learning? It all depends on the nature of the learning and not all learning is the same. If your kid who has always loved to learn hates school, or can’t pay attention, or misbehaves or refuses to go, there is actually a fairly simple explanation: lack of divergent thinking.
Highest Level Thinking
The highest level of thinking that has been identified by psychologists and educators is creative thinking. Creative thinking is a combination of two distinct thinking skills: divergent and convergent.
Divergent thinking is imaginative, visionary, exploratory.
Convergent thinking is analytical and critical.
The combination of these two types of thinking result in robust creative thinking, otherwise known as problem solving.
To achieve this powerful thinking native to all humans, you must use both divergent and convergent faculties. Children naturally learn using both, yet school largely leaves out divergent thinking.
Studies prove this assertion. For example, one seminal study of over 1,000 K-12 classrooms showed that more than 70% of class time is focused on convergent teacher-to-student direct instruction. Even further, the authors of the study wrote, “not even 1 percent of the instruction required some kind of open response involving reasoning or perhaps an opinion from students.” (This study was conducted in several decades ago and the sad truth is that it has gotten worse with increased standardization in the 21st century.)
This isn’t great for any child. But for kids whose natural tendency is to problem-solve, create, make, tinker, or imagine, such schooling can be absolute agony. They feel that their minds are cut off. They don’t experience the satisfaction that comes from genuine growth through learning. As psychologist and researcher George Land wrote in his book Breakpoint and Beyond, “When we are growing and connecting, we feel pleasure and joy. When we are not growing or are disconnecting, we feel pain.”
Children’s jobs are to learn. When they are not really learning and growing they undergo the pain and disconnect that Land described. They are dissatisfied and feel separated from who they are. This might drive them to become daydreamers, rebels, or class clowns to cope and to find alternative ways to exercise their divergent thinking. In fact, rebelling, daydreaming, or clowning are best-case scenarios. Alternatively, kids check out, shut down, become depressed, or worse.
What to do about it?
You as parents must give your children valid and productive opportunities for more divergent thinking. You also must be honest with them about the situation.
First, share the points of this article in a way your child can understand. Tell him that he has robust creative thinking skills and those skills simply aren’t being used right now. That’s why he feels dissatisfied or bored or restless. Like a natural soccer player who is never allowed to kick a ball, your child needs opportunities to express his talent. Our book Creativity for Everybody is a perfect intro to creative thinking, strengths, and how to use them for parents and kids alike. There are lots of pertinent illustrations and you can even read it sideways!
Second, find more ways to include divergent thinking in your home. Check out articles for parents in our Sparkitivity blog. For example, learn how to engage your child in word collecting, use brainstorming to plan family fun, and learn to engage creative strengths. I am here to be a thought partner if the situation has become dire or you simply need some fresh ideas. Register for a think session here.
Finally, try to advocate for more divergent + convergent thinking at school. We have many articles for teachers on our Sparkitivity blog to help. Of course, you can also book a think tank session to help at school.
Whatever your child feels about school, love it or hate it, more opportunities for imagination, exploration, and originality will lead to joy in learning, joy in life, and growth.
Kathryn Haydon helps you maximize your creative strengths so you can do your best work. Through keynotes, workshops, and consulting, she trains individuals, leaders, and teams to find the unique spark that leads to deep engagement and productivity.