School can be hard: How to help your teen cope

Is your teenage child finding school difficult? Are they struggling to make it in? Are they coming home and unleashing their overwhelmed feelings on you? School is important, not just for learning maths and geography, but also for getting on with others and functioning in society.


When you realise they are struggling at school, the first step is to determine their reason. Talk to them about it and ask them to help you understand the issue from their perspective. If they don't want to talk to you about it (which is quite normal for teenagers!) speak with their school to see if they can shed any light on it. 

Why is my child finding school difficult?

Some reasons could be:

  • There is an issue with friendships. 
  • They are being bullied.
  • They are struggling with the work. Or they feel they have got too far behind.
  • They are having problems with one of the teachers.
  • There is an issue at home.
  • They may have mental health issues.
  • They may have learning difficulties or conditions that make school hard such as autism or ADHD.

How can I work out what is happening?

  • Talk to them - it could be a problem with their friends or teachers, or they may struggle with the work.
  • Work with the school - let your child know you will do this, so you can all work together to help them get back.
  • Speak to them about talking to a counsellor about their worries or fears about school.

It is important that your child goes to school while this is happening - school is not just about learning academic stuff; it's crucial for them socially and developmentally. Avoiding a difficult situation doesn't help with anxiety; it feeds it. Physically going to school helps them remember they can do it, allowing them to find their confidence and resilience. Getting back to school is much easier if you haven't been away from it for too long. 

Working with the school as a team is the best way to get your child back there. Talk with their tutor or head of year. 

  • Let them know what's happening from your perspective and what your child has told you is the issue.
  • If the problem is bullying, let them know how this is impacting your child and ask them what strategies they have in place to manage or, better still, prevent bullying.
  • Ask what support staff are available to help, such as the school counsellor or wellbeing team.
  • If they are having difficulties due to a disability or neurodivergence, such as autism or ADHD, ask what the school has in place to support them.
  • Make sure to ask for regular updates. 

Work with your child and the school to formulate a plan of action to move forward.

How do I talk to my child about this?

  1. Staying calm is the goal here. If your child sees you're stressed, upset or angry, they will pick up on this, worsening their anxiety.
  2. Show them you understand and still expect them to go to school: "I can see that you're worried about going to school, but you do need to go."
  3. Routines for the morning and evening are good for everyone. Having everything ready to go the evening before helps set up a calm start to the day.
  4. Avoid getting into negotiations (teens love to negotiate) by being clear, "When you're at school tomorrow, you can..." rather than "If you go to school ..."
  5. Notice, acknowledge and praise them when they are taking steps to go in: "I know this is hard, but well done for getting your bag ready."
  6. If they don't attend school, try not to reward this accidentally. No school means no television or electronics, for example. Make staying at home boring!

If you are worried about your child's difficulty engaging with and going to school, you don't have to resolve it alone - work with your child and the school to help.

And, most importantly, don't forget to look after yourself!  When you are feeling well, it's much easier to help other people. 

Getting your own counselling can help. I work online with parents and carers to help them feel more confident in their parenting. If you are struggling to cope with how your child is behaving and how that is making you feel, check out my profile or email me to learn more about how we can work together.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Seaford, East Sussex, BN25
Written by Jennifer Warwick, MSc Psych, BACP Registered | Counsellor and Parenting Expert
Seaford, East Sussex, BN25

I am a BACP registered counsellor working online. I work with people who struggle to balance work, home and family life. People who are constantly rushing, looking after others over themselves and are exhausted as a result. I specialise in relationships, family issues and parenting teens and tweens. Contact me for an introductory chat by phone.

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