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Sunday, 25 March 2001

Nine-Year-Old Doesn't Like School

Written by  Sylvia B. Rimm, PhD

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Nine-Year-Old Doesn't Like School

QDear Dr. Sylvia,

My husband and I have four children. Our nine-year-old son has begun to express an intense dislike for school. In the morning, he will say he is not attending school. He may refuse to dress and will do so after our most determined insistence only. He cries at times. He has repeatedly expressed feeling tired. He may willingly agree to do homework, but does it poorly, or does not complete it without some kind of unpleasant episode.

His grades have gone down significantly in some areas. We have been forewarned by parents of students who have had this particular teacher that she raises her voice, that students are able to do things in the classroom with permission from the teacher only (talk, for example), and their children have exhibited varying forms of anxiety. One student had stomach problems; another parent chose antidepressants as a way to cope. My son has said that she shouts, does not allow questions and expects perfection on all of his assignments. For example, he wrote a thank you note and spelled "remember" with a d instead of a b. Rather than erase the incorrect letter, he was asked to do the entire note over. The children are allowed one piece of paper for an assignment. The children were threatened with a poor grade on report cards if an objective was not completed to her satisfaction. This evening, my son shouted, "Homework is stupid, school is stupid, and my teacher is stupid."

Sunday evenings are always more difficult, I imagine, due to the end of the weekend, and the thought of school the following morning. This has disrupted our family life; at times it can be most unpleasant. We have reiterated staying home from school is never a choice; allowed time for activities he enjoys; encouraged verbalization of feelings; introduced time management for those assignments that take more than one evening; at night, gently remind him that we expect his cooperation in the morning; have considered removing privileges for noncompliance; and have considered earning privileges for cooperation. We are not making much progress. I realize consistency is of the utmost importance. We want our son to take the initiative to get ready in the morning and to do homework in the evening.

We can not make him enjoy school, although we'd like to see him empowered to meet the challenges he faces in this particular classroom. We would like to provide him with a means to cope. We'd like our home life to improve. Any suggestions?

AYour efforts to help your son are good ones, and it is true that even with a difficult teacher, parents need to help their children to be resilient and cope. Successful struggles this year may teach your son to jump higher hurdles in the future. However, if descriptions of the teacher are accurate, it might also make good sense to talk to the principal about the concerns you are hearing. If the teaching is as bad as it sounds, the principal may need parents' complaints in order to show just cause for having the teacher take a different, hopefully non-teaching job. I would not advise that you tell your son you plan to talk to the principal since that will only empower him to avoid school. If the descriptions of the teacher are inaccurate, it is important for you to know the truth, as it affects your son in the classroom.

Successful struggles this year may teach your son to jump higher hurdles in the future.

In addition to all your other attempts, you may want to provide a reward system for your son's going to school independently where he can save up points for something he'd like to earn. He should only receive points if he goes without coercion, because going to school should not be his choice.

I do think if you don't get a fairly swift turnaround, your son needs to see a psychologist. School phobia can become a very serious problem.

Dr. Sylvia

Last modified on Tuesday, 14 May 2013 14:57
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1 Comment

  • Comment Link Thursday, 14 March 2013 16:40 posted by Jennifer

    What a pleasure to find someone who tihnks through the issues

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Sylvia B. Rimm, PhD

Sylvia B. Rimm, PhD

Dr. Sylvia Rimm is a psychologist and best-selling author with a national following. She is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, and is a clinical professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.

Website: /images/stories/sylvia_rimm.jpg
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