5 Common Problems at School That Lead to Counseling

Throughout the school year, I get quite a few calls from concerned parents about their child or teen. Sometimes, the issues are stemming from something at home, and other times, it may be stemming from issues at school. Either way, it makes sense that a lot of the behaviors and struggles are observed on school grounds first.

What school problems are most commonly reported when parents seek therapy?

1. Not paying attention in class.

When a child or teen is reported as not paying attention in class, parents often worry right away their child has ADHD. While this is certainly a possibility, inattention can also be a symptom of boredom, lack of sleep or adequate nutrition, or preoccupation with other problems. When inattention is such a problem that the child’s grades are suffering, or it is causing them emotional distress, it’s best to seek professional intervention.

2. Difficulty making friends.

In my experience, this is most common with kids in elementary school who are just getting started in the school social scene. The possibility of a disorder on the Autism spectrum is always looming when parents report social difficulties. While we want to look at all possibilities, this can also be a symptom of a child who is shy, inexperienced in social settings, or even suffering from a mild form of social phobia. If the teachers are reporting this is a problem, or the child is telling you they are worried, and the problem persists despite your greatest efforts, seek professional advisement.

3. Disruptive in class.

When a child or teen is disruptive in class, it is usually treated as strictly a behavior problem without considering all the potential reasons for their behavior. Many times, like most of these issues, there is an underlying reason. First, kids and teens are extremely vulnerable to the need for social acceptance. This need can drive them to behave in ways that will get them into trouble, or even put their safety at risk. They may also be disruptive because they are bored, cannot understand the teacher, cannot see the teacher, or not challenged. This child may also be struggling with the material and find they are so far behind that it “saves face” to look as if they are failing because they don’t care, rather than being unable to understand the material. Many, many possibilities!

4. Reports of aggressiveness or anger.

When children act aggressivetly towards others, or express such a high level of anger, it can be worrisome. It breaks my heart to see a young person feeling so negative. In my experience, these kids don’t want to feel this way. They are often angry about something going on a home, such as a divorce, or an issue at school, such as a bully. When a child is this angry, seek help from a professional so they can work through some of that anger, as well as learn some more positive coping skills.

5. Failing grades.

When kids fail their classes, it’s best to determine the reason as soon as possible. The longer the issue goes on, the more and more behind they will fall. Not only may they repeat a grade, but they can feel defeated and believe they are not smart. This is rarely the case. Talk to the teachers and the student to find out more about what subjects they are failing. Is it test grades or homework? These details can help you discover the possible root of the problem. Finally, talk with a professional about your next step. They may be a candidate for psychological testing or therapy.

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Author: Kim Peterson, MA, LPC-S, RPT

Kim is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Clinical Supervisor, and Registered Play Therapist in Dallas, Texas.

4 thoughts on “5 Common Problems at School That Lead to Counseling”

  1. I’m reading this book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts, and it talks about how schools hype up extroverted students and deem introverts (the ones who prefer to work alone, the ones who would rather have two or three friends instead of befriend the whole class) as needing improvement. Even setting up tables in pods for “group work” instead of individual desks is the norm now. And that it’s not fair because we actually need introverts’ contributions that most extroverts aren’t able to produce.

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