It’s all about attitude, and positive attitudes usually win every time.
The best students tend to have positive attitudes regarding most things, but especially about school. They generally like school (or, at least, they don’t hate it), don’t miss too much of it, get their classwork done independently and efficiently, and complete every homework assignment they are given. Most are pretty well organized — they are wired to be effective and efficient learners.
All students — whether they are effective and efficient learners or not — are capable of having positive attitudes about school. Very often, however, negative attitudes get in the way. Sometimes the negativity comes from parents, who perhaps having struggled in school when they were kids, didn’t extend their learning careers past their high school diplomas. Some kids see and hear negativity about school from their older siblings, which is never helpful. What friends think may be important to some, but positive attitudes about school are more likely to be influential than negative ones. In fact, a new study supports the notion that, among peers, it is happiness that’s contagious, not depression.
One thing I know parents don’t want to hear, especially from their young school-age child is, “I don’t want to go to school.” One of the saddest statements that I hear from kids much too often is, “I don’t like school.” Why do they say that? What do they really mean?
For a pediatrician, that statement should be a red flag that the child is having difficulties learning efficiently. Emotional issues (stemming from bullying, a dysfunctional home life, or chronic illness), behavioral problems (related to those same issues, or from an underlying mental illness), inability to focus (ADHD), and specific learning disabilities need to be addressed and ruled out before other causes of negative attitudes towards school are considered.
Stephanie Dolgoff clues us in on some other reasons why kids say they don’t like school:
Unless you homeschool, there’s no question your kid has to be backpack-on, lunch-box-in-hand ready on day one. Still, replying “You have to go, or Mommy and Daddy will go to jail,” while true, isn’t ideal. Ask him exactly what it is about school that’s eating at him, advises Ruth Peters, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Clearwater, FL, and don’t accept “Everything” as an answer. Probe gently, and depending on what he says, here’s how to help him wrap his mind around the fact that September is just around the corner.
Dolgoff has four ideas about what “I don’t want to go to school” really means:
- I don’t want summer to end. Well, who can blame him? “But help put that in perspective,” says Peters. “Dreading the end of a good thing doesn’t mean that school is a bad thing.” A reminder of the aspects of school that he adored last year — friends, clubs, a particular subject — should do it.
- I’ve heard older kids say school is not cool. You should be able to ferret this out pretty easily. Then a quick “Are you kidding? What’s not cool about meeting new people and learning new things?” should do it for a kindergartner or first-grader. To an older kid, you might say, “Do you really dislike school, all day, every day?” If it’s fear of seeming uncool, he will probably be able to name some aspects of school he enjoys, and you can just remind him that he doesn’t have to pretend to dislike something just to fit in.
- I’m afraid of the work. Reassure him that the first six weeks of school is always a catch-up time, says Peters, and that when the pace picks up, you’ll do whatever he needs to support him. “You can always get a tutor to help out,” adds Peters, who points out that a high school student will often do it for little money. But watch your language here. “You want to empathize about the fact that certain things may be hard,” she says, without making the problem seem insurmountable. So avoid saying something like “Yeah, none of us Spunkmeyers is good at math — you got the gene!” Instead, try “Yes, math can be tough. But we’ll figure it out one way or another.”
- I’m worried I’ll have no friends/be bullied/have to eat lunch alone. Social worries are huge for kids and can cause a lot of anxiety about the start of school. “If something happened last year, they’re probably thinking that more of the same is going to happen,” says Peters. There’s a lot you can do, though. Find out before his first day if his friends are going to be in his class, and if they’re not, prepare him for that by talking over whom he can eat lunch with and making plans for after school… The more he knows about what’s coming up, the better he’ll feel.
After all, kids are in school a long time. First, there’s preschool. After that, Kindergarten, and then, elementary school. Middle school follows, then high school. Most people want to go to college someday, don’t they? And then, there’s medical school!
That’s a lot of school! Resistance is futile.