Help­ing girl who says she doesn’t like school

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Puzzles - BY JOHN ROSE­MOND Visit fam­ily psy­chol­o­gist John Rose­mond’s web­site www.john­rose­

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.

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