PARENT QUESTION: Hello Alison! Do you have any tips for kids who complaint everyday about going to school. My daughter (age 8) never used to be like that, but lately she has the worst attitude about going to school, and the mornings are the worst. She doesn't complain about anyone bothering her. Her teacher seems very nice. I just don't understand why she's acting this way, she just keeps saying she doesn't want to go to school. Is it just her being lazy? Any advice will help! Thanks a lot!!
ANSWER: Kids who were always happy going to school and suddenly seem to change always do cause a great deal of concern for their parents. Sometimes asking kids directly about anyone is being mean to them, won’t give you a true answer. Kids will frequently say “no”, because they don’t want more questioning from parents. So parents then are still unsure if that is the truth!
Sometimes if there is something going on with another child bullying or being mean, kids don’t want to tell their parents because they don’t want them going to the school or their parents will simply tell them to “stand up for themselves” or “tell the teacher” (which isn’t really helping).
Talk to your child by telling her a story from when you were younger and what happened when someone was mean to you. Create stories about friends and “being in the middle” and ones of mean kids too. Even if you have to be “creative” with your story, it will open a door so that your child will feel that you understand because you’ve “been through it too”. If you do this occasionally with different things that she’s experiencing in her life, she’ll feel that you two are more connected. If there is nothing going on with friends or bullies, then it could be simply a stage that she’s going through because it commands attention.
If you feel that you have more or less ruled out bullies and problems with friends, think about her academics. Is she having difficulty in school? Are there areas of learning she’s having problems with? If that’s the case, she may need extra help. Sometimes kids say the wrong answer in school and a few kids laugh. That can be something that can happen and a child can decide that “they are done with school”! A teacher may not have even noticed something like that. She can get good grades but still have the wrong answer occasionally and one laugh from other kids can make her not want to go back!
If you feel that the friends and bullies situation is under control and that there is no academic issue involved, it can be something as simple as a lot of attention was gotten from you the first time she happened to say it. When a child has always been happy to go to school and one day they say they don’t want to go, parents often show much more concern! Kids pick up on that so quickly and realize how much power and control that one statement has! Then they simply start using it every day so that the discussion is aimed around them.
Since she’s been doing this for a while, think of all of the time and attention that has been given to her. She says she doesn’t want to go to school, you ask what’s wrong. She says it again, then you answer. Your conversations in the morning probably are exactly the same day after day. You don’t get much of an answer other than she doesn’t want to go! All of the “morning attention” is not the kind of attention that you may think of because she probably gets lots of attention. But it’s the kind of attention that gives her the power to control the conversation.
If you feel that you have more or less ruled out bullies and problems with learning, then I’d take this approach. Sit down and tell her that you are always there to help her and if she has a real problem you will always be there to help her. Then tell her that you are very tired to having to say the same thing every morning and have to hear her say the same thing back. Tell her that it’s gotten boring and that you aren’t going to answer it anymore. Then tell her that when it happens (every time she says she doesn’t want to go to school), she will lose 5 minutes of TV or computer time after school. (Just jot down tally marks when she says it so you have a record of time lost. You don’t want to even comment at that time because the idea is of having you not respond at all. If she’s not getting dressed and it’s time to leave, drive her to school in her PJ’s. She’ll freak out about that one! If you do drive her, then park in the school lot so she can change. Let her know that the next day, you won’t be pulling over, and she will go into class in her PJ’s. Once she sees that you mean it and that there are consequences for her behavior, it will stop!
You know what type of consequences will work (i.e. if it’s removal of privileges such as the TV or computer time) or maybe she would love to even play a game of UNO with you after school if she has a quick and positive morning getting ready for school. Some kids respond more quickly to things they will lose and others respond to earing a privilege. You know your daughter!
I hope this helps you! So sorry for the few day delay in answering.