Helping girl who says she doesn’t like school
Q: Our 9-year-old daughter recently announced that she doesn’t like school, doesn’t want to go, and doesn’t want to do the work. We’ve been unable to get a coherent reason out of her and her teacher tells us she seems well-adjusted, has friends, and is doing above-average work. She usually makes this complaint during homework time, when she encounters a difficult problem or doesn’t readily understand some explanation I’ve given. Lately her complaints have become more frequent, anytime the subject of school comes up. We’ve tried to figure out what the problem is, but to no avail. She has no explanation other than “I just don’t.” Do you have any ideas?
A: I have two suggestions, both of which may seem counterintuitive, but both of which are based on solid research:
First, stop talking to your daughter about her attitude toward school. Research in neuro-linguistics predicts that the more you discuss it, trying to get to the bottom of it, the more she will complain of disliking school, and the more convinced she will become that she has valid reasons for not liking it. The same is true of repeated discussions of irrational childhood fears, self-deprecating remarks like “I’m ugly” and “No one likes me.”
At some point, the proper response is “We’ve talked about that enough. I’ve said all I have to say about it. We’re not going to talk about it anymore.” Talking, however wellintentioned, can transform a random comment (At some point, nearly all children complain of not liking school, being irrationally afraid of something, not liking themselves, being unpopular, and so on) into a drama.
Talking, like most things that are initially beneficial, has a point of diminishing returns. When that point is reached, talking is counter-productive. Having an audience, someone who will listen sympathetically to complaint, is a powerful thing (which is something even some therapists fail to understand).
Second, stop helping her with homework. The latest research – which I review in my book “Helping Your Child Succeed in School” – confirms that parents who help with homework run a strong risk of depressing their children’s academic performance. Occasional, time-limited help is fine, but anything more than infrequent, brief homework consultations is likely to stimulate complaints of “I can’t!”
Said another way, the more parents help with homework, the more evidence children give that they need help with their homework. It’s that audience thing again.