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6 unexpected signs that kids are frustrated about school

By Kate Kelly

Getting frustrated is one of the firsts signs a child is struggling in school. Sometimes it’s clear that things aren’t going well — kids may lose their temper or walk away from a difficult task. But frustration over school can show up in ways that aren’t always obvious.

Here are six signs of frustration you might not expect. You may see kids:

  1. Just sit quietly in class, not engaged and not trying.

  2. Avoid taking risks or trying new things, thinking they’ll probably fail.

  3. Say they have no control over whether they succeed at something.

  4. Clown around to distract people from things they don’t do as well as other kids.

  5. Say it doesn’t matter how hard they work because they won’t do well.

  6. Put it on other people: “Nobody explained the directions.”

Ongoing frustration can make kids lose their motivation to keep trying. Spotting the signs is the first step to finding out what’s causing their struggles at school — and what might help.

Dive deeper

When frustration leads to anger

When frustration goes on for a long time, kids can get resentful and angry. They may feel like things are easy for everyone else and nobody understands them.

Kids may express their anger through tantrums, verbal outbursts, swearing, throwing things, and fighting. Acting out like this isn’t about being “bad.” It usually happens when kids don’t have other ways of coping or managing what’s bothering them.

Learn what a child’s anger might be telling you .

Frustration in tweens and teens

As school gets harder in middle school and high school, frustration can boil over. Tweens and teens might decide that school isn’t important. Or they may start cutting classes. They may feel greater anxiety about the future.

At this age, kids face other demands beyond school that can add to the pressure and increase frustration. Driving, dating, and first jobs can all present challenges and risk of failure. 

Find out more about school frustration in tweens and teens .

Next steps

Picking up on behavior patterns can give you a better idea of what’s causing the frustration. For example, does the frustration happen all the time? Or is it only when certain things are going on? What does the behavior look like?

Take notes on what you see so you can share them with people who can help get to the bottom of it — like parents, caregivers, teachers, or pediatricians.

Use a frustration log to keep track of what you notice.

Related topics

Frustration Frustration School struggles School struggles Signs and symptoms Signs and symptoms

Did you know?

If kids fall apart when they get home from school, there’s a bright side. It can mean that they feel safe to express themselves at home and trust the people there to help them calm down — no matter what.

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As many as 1 in 4 kids show signs of school refusal at some point. They won’t go to school or do schoolwork — they may even make themselves sick over it.

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When people avoid reading or don’t follow directions, it might look like they’re just being “lazy” or “defiant.” But behaviors like these can actually be signs of learning and thinking differences.

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