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“Why do I have to do all this dumb work? It's so boring. How is this going to help me anyway?”
“Jake, for the 20th time, go do your homework!”
“I'm not going to school, you can't make me.”
Does this sound familiar?
This is a picture of a child resisting and avoiding something in life that makes him miserable. A perfectly natural response to an adverse situation. Yet, one of your jobs and legal obligations as a parent is to ensure that your child gets an education. So sets the stage for nightly power struggles, anger, and resentment on both sides.
For the child who tries to do school work despite feeling miserable, things are even more complicated. To really learn and retain information optimally, a child needs to utilize their full mental capacity. This becomes quite difficult when a child's mind is absorbed in resentful thoughts such as, “I hate school and why do I have to do this.” The child is doing the work because they have to. They think they are actually learning, but they are only getting bits and pieces and they’re not really retaining the information.
Predictably, they do poorly, even though they tried, so on top of everything else, the child constantly experiences failure.
Well-meaning parents will often unwittingly exacerbate a child’s resistance. Most parents deal with a child’s attitude towards school in one of two ways. Either by telling the child “that's life and deal with it” or by allying themselves with the child. “You're right that teacher is really mean,” or “The assignment is ridiculous,” “School is way too strict/hard,” etc.
Both approaches are detrimental.
School is difficult at times; it can be boring and frustrating. It is important that a child feels validated. If a parent quickly shuts down a complaining kid with a statement such as “Well, school is part of life” the child will get the message that their feelings are not important. They will see their parents as allying themselves with the school, the “enemy” instead of with them and will feel betrayed. Their resentment will grow to include their parents as well.
Then there is the opposite side, the parent who is overly sympathetic. This parent is quick to validate the “injustices” of a child’s experiences and expresses pity for what they are going through. The child now feels justified in their hatred towards school and the “system.” After all, even their parents agree with them so they must be right. Who would respond positively to being forced into an unjust situation on a daily basis? Even with all the support from their parents, there is no escaping this reality.
Both approaches trigger the “fight or flight” response and at this point your child may no longer even have control over their behaviors.
It's time to flip the script:
To end the power struggle a child has to stop fighting their reality and taste success.
Combine empathy with reality acceptance:
Empathy means that you validate your child’s feelings about school without joining in their hatred or resentment. Let your child know that you understand them by allowing them to express their feelings without becoming emotionally involved and reflect their feelings back at them. At the same time you need to help your child come to accept the fact that school is a reality, and non-negotiable. It is helpful for a child to hear, “Children have to go to school. There is no other option, so how can we make the best of it.” Pointing out, in a gentle way, that children have gone to school since the beginning of time is a healthy perspective for your child to have. They will not feel quite so alone in their plight. A child may fight this approach at first but, if it is repeated empathetically and often enough, they will come to accept their reality. Especially, if they are engaged the in process of “making the best of it.”
Making the best of it - Dealing with the hard and boring.
It's not impossible. Kids equate hard with impossible, and who wants to be stuck doing the impossible. “Hard” doesn't mean impossible. Encourage your child to focus on how much they do know as opposed to how much they don’t. Build off of the pride in their accomplishments to help your child develop a positive “can do” attitude that will serve them well when tackling the parts that are more challenging.
Find the interest. Challenge your child. Try to pique their interest.
A child I worked with constantly complained about being bored in class. Being fixated on their boredom made it impossible for them to pay attention. They also struggled with their handwriting. I suggested that instead of focusing on how class is boring, why not try and see how neatly they could write while listening to the teacher and taking notes. It worked. The child felt stimulated by the challenge and ended up paying more attention and improving their handwriting. They even found some of the things their teacher said to be interesting.
Encourage a child to identify something interesting they learned during the day. You can set up an incentive if you like.
If these suggestions do not help and your child continues to resist going to school or doing school work, outside intervention may be warranted to help identify and treat any underlying problem.
Help your child rise above the negativity and hatred of school. You have a tremendous amount of power to help shape your child's school experience. Stay the course and offer encouragement to your child, no matter how negative they may be.
The key is empathetically reinforce that reality has to be accepted, combined with the positive “let's make the best of it” attitude. A positive, open mind is a mind that is receptive to learning new things and accomplishing what was previously not possible. Accomplishment gives rise to the best feelings a person can have. Who is going to fight against that?
Rachel Rosenholtz, LCSW-R is certified in TF-CBT. She has a private practice located in the Five Towns and offers online sessions. She specializes in treating behavioral problems, and anxiety and trauma related issues in people of all ages. In addition, Rachel is available school in-services, and counseling for parents. She can be reached at (347) 673-1953 and Rachel@InvestInTherapy.com. Visit her website - InvestInTherapy.com