Daughter feels she doesn’t belong at her private school

Hello Parents!

My daughter is a Freshman at a private parochial school and is feeling like she shouldn’t be there? We can not convince her otherwise … despite the fact that she:

  • has made friends easily 
  • she is a straight A student
  • she is involved
  • her teachers love her
  • she got in fair and square: high school placement test was amazing, her essays were amazing, her teacher/principal recommendation letters were stellar. She had a solid interview … Honestly, she did that!
  • and she LOVES her school

EVERY night we have to go through the same thing. I can’t figure out why she doesn’t think she is worthy of going to school there?????? Yes, she went to a public school her first 9 years and now feels badly that her friends were not able to go too because of various reasons. But, that doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t go! We have already told her we aren’t pulling her out, so she had better just deal with it. But, I really want her to enjoy her experience. Is this going to be a looooong 4 years or, will she finally get over it? Have you ever experienced this with your child? 

She also has anxiety and a hard time getting to sleep and sleeping well once those beautiful eyes are closed. So, I started giving her Melatonin at 8:00 so that she is knocked out by 9. We have also been trying to get her a Therapist but, unfortunately Kaiser is on strike in that department. We have asked for someone outside of Kaiser since they can’t provide the service but, that’s been like pulling teeth! If you have any suggestions I’m 100% open to hearing them. Also, if your daughter Loves her therapist, I’d love some referrals please please please. I want to help my baby …

Parent Replies

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It is great that your daughter is able to talk with you about her feelings.  I would be curious if there are any religious, socio-economic, or cultural identity differences between your daughter and her peers that she is now trying to sort out.  Alternatively, if you find that she is routinely perseverating about whether the school is "right" for her irrespective of positive parts of her experience, you may want to have her screened for OCD. Sometimes that kind of rumination and reassurance-seeking can be a symptom (such as in relationship OCD). The International OCD Foundation has lots of information, referrals and resources if this is part of the picture. 

Stop trying to convince her and start just listening. She is doing fine. But she needs to talk about her experience. Have you had an experience in which you felt like you didn’t belong? Ask her if she wants you to share. She is concerned about the friends she left behind. Ask her if there is some action she would like to take in regards to those friends. Just listen and try to understand. 

It's absolutely legitimate for your daughter to question why she is going to a private school and to feel out of place there after attending public schools for K-8 and it sounds like, strongly identifying with her peers there. Perhaps it is you who should examine why you are so attached to her going to the private school that you want to insist she complete 4 years there when she is uncomfortable.

Just wondering has anyone asked her where she thinks she belongs, and has anyone tried to make that happen for her? Maybe she just wants to be somewhere else (and that’s ok).

Honestly, I found this letter a bit stressful to read. Why is it a firm requirement that she remain in this school? Is it possible that something has happened or is happening to her that she can’t talk to you about, so she’s asking to escape for a reason she thinks might be acceptable to you?

No one here can answer the question of why she feels she doesn’t belong in this environment - only she can. Have you listened very carefully? Have you asked calm, kind, curious, nonjudgmental questions? If this were my child I would certainly be listening with a very open mind and open heart. Kaisers strike is now over, but there are also many ways to quickly get therapy if your child needs it. I don’t think I’d delay.

Many years ago,my mom pulled my sister and me out of public school and into a private school.  My sister graduated from the private school.  I couldn't stand it -- I was a hippie kid and the private school did not cater to that.  Some of the kids were nice, many were snobs, and I didn't fit in.  To be frank, I was badly-adjusted in general (trouble at home) and it showed.  My sister had issues as well but covered them.

The schools in my home town had open enrollment, and one of the public high schools was particularly welcoming for kids like me.  I pushed to be let out of the private school and go to the welcoming public high school.  Best decision I ever made, I got great grades, felt appreciated for who I was, made friends, connected with my teachers, got into Stanford, etc.

My husband, who grew up Quaker, attended a large, well-regarded Quaker high school in Pennsylvania.  He was unhappy there, and pushed to attend a different school, a much smaller, more bohemian Quaker high school that he really loved.

We put our daughter in a small private school from PK through middle school.  This decision was based on the specific programs at that school; otherwise she would have gone to public school.  It was overall a good choice, maybe, in part because she is diminutive and shy.  She's at Berkeley High now, and frankly the teachers on average are better than the private-school ones.  This was also my experience way back when I chose the public school over the private one.

Parents imagine the teaching is better at private school because they are shelling out all that money.  Public-school teachers are profoundly dedicated and generally better-trained than private-school teachers.  The real advantages of private school are generally smaller class size and more parental control.  In a high-school situation, however, there are fewer course choices simply because private schools are generally smaller. 

Private-school kids are more affluent, and the class distinction may look "better" from the parents' standpoint.  This may lead to the illusion that, for example, the private-school kids have less access to recreational drugs.  My daughter's observation, however, is that the private parochial school many of her private-school friends now attend has at least as much drug use coupled with a lot less education about drug use.  Similarly, Berkeley High provides robust sex education, specifically consent education, and access to sexual-health services, which the parochial school doesn't.  So far as I know, lack of sex education and sexual-health services does not lead to less high-school sex.

What I'm trying to convey is that the advantages of private over public school are exaggerated.  I agree with the other folks responding to your query that you should listen to your daughter.  If she's unhappy, she's unhappy, even if the school she's in is great for 95% of the kids there.  Frankly, I think you should let her attend the school she wants to attend.