Want To Go To School" and What You Can Do About It
Nearly every morning before school, Josh,
9, will scream, cry and do anything possible to stay home. "He'll whine on and on,
I don't feel well. I
hate my teacher. School is boring," say his parents, Suzanne and Rob, who report
that they have hit the wall with his behavior. "He used to like school," said
Suzanne. "I'm not sure what happened, but in the last few years it's become a
battle just to get him out the door."
If you're a parent,
it's almost inevitable that you're going to be faced with your child not wanting
to go to school at some point. The most important thing is that you identify the
problem correctly. Is it workload, peer pressure, or your child's individual way
of coping? It's vital for parents to look at your child's situation closely:
does he require more sleep or is there a social problem? Or is this a kid who
lacks sufficient problem-solving skills to help him solve the problem of getting
out of bed when he doesn't want to? Sometimes kids are afraid of a bully, and
actually, avoiding school is one of the first signs that your child is being
bullied, so be sure to investigate that possibility. And there are other kids
who just don't want to respond to structure and who have a hard time with
authority. Not going to school becomes another avenue of acting out for them. In
all of these cases, it's important for you to understand that the kid's refusal
to go to school is his way of solving a problem that's real to him. As we see
over and over again with some children, the way they solve problems gets them
into more trouble. That's why it's very important that you help your child
develop problem-solving skills on his or her own, so that when problems arise on
any level over anything, your child will be able to think of a way to figure it
Your child may also complain of being bored of school. Some research indicates
that when some kids say they're bored, that they're actually mildly angry. And
you know, kids do get angry with school, it is boring sometimes. But parents
have to be able to tell their kids that it's their responsibility to go to
school. You need to say, "You have to go to school even when you're bored.
That's your responsibility. It's not about your mood, it's your responsibility.
If you want it to be less boring, find some more interesting things to do there
to balance it out."
It's about Motivation and Consequences (Just like it is with Adults)
The truth is, millions of people get up and go to work every day. One way of
seeing it is that these people have solved the problem of going to work
successfully. The reason they've solved their problem is because they've
developed a constellation of problem-solving skills that help them function
successfully in the real world.
When we look at adult problem-solving skills, two things stand out: motivation
and consequences. The motivation is why they have to go to work. They have to
feed their family, they have to feed themselves. They work harder to have a
nicer car, nicer clothes, to go out at night. These are motivations. The
consequences are if they don't get up and go to work, they lose their job. Over
time, they lose many jobs and they wind up in trouble socially and economically.
The same motivation and consequences apply to your child when he doesn't want to
go to school, and you need to teach that to him now. As the parent, you have a
two-part goal: to get that kid go to school and to help or him identify and
solve the problem associated with him not wanting to go to school.
Motivation is pretty easy because it's easy to reward people. What I say to
parents is to tell their kids something like this, ?If you get up on time,
you'll be able to stay up until 9 p.m. You'll be able to listen to your radio
after bedtime to help you go to sleep, or if you get up on time, you can have an
hour in your room to relax and you won't have to have lights-out right at
bedtime.? At all times, parents should connect getting up for school on time
with good grades and good performance and give kids lots of approval for that.
In fact, one thing a parent might say to a kid is, ?I really like it that you
get up well in the morning. Do you ever feel like not getting up? What do you
tell yourself when you don't feel like getting up?? You'll learn how your child
thinks and how he solves the problem.
Giving consequences can be just as simple. The key is not getting into a power
struggle with the child, and connecting the consequence to the situation. It's
also important to start using consequences at an early age when the child
resists going to school. Sometimes consequences involve withholding something,
like not letting the child stay up later, and sometimes they involve enforcing
something. "You haven't gotten up on time all week, so for the next week, your
bedtime is an hour earlier. And if you get up on time, we can talk about you
going back to the schedule we had before, but right now you're going to have to
If your child has a problem with getting up in the morning, certainly TV, video
games and cell phone time should be taken away and consequences should be given
by withholding them or limiting the time your child can have with these things.
Set New Limits and Let the Child Face Natural Consequences
Not going to school is the symptom of a bigger problem sometimes. The kid is not
meeting his responsibilities overall in school and at home. Several things need
to be noted here: it's important how parents communicate to kids about
responsibilities. It has a lot to do with how seriously they take their
responsibilities today. Parents of kids who resist and fight going to school
should be looking at a whole new way of communicating with their kids and a
whole new approach to responsibility in the home. Ask yourself: "Does my child
resist me on most things I ask him to do? Does he meet assigned responsibilities
in the home? Does he have fairly unlimited access to things like video games and
computer games?" If the answer is yes, it's probably time to set limits on these
things so that you can use them as a consequence or a reward for getting up and
going to school. Believe it or not, it can be done. It's easier than parents
think to restructure how to do things with their kids.
A few quick tips: Don't try to have a serious discussion in the morning about
the getting up problem with a child who won't get up. That's not the time they
can learn new problem-solving skills. They're too busy justifying their excuses
and fighting with you. That problem-solving discussion should take place later.
Second, if getting up becomes a chronic problem, parents have to accept that
there are consequences imposed by the school and society, not just by the
family. You should let the child be late and not give an excuse. Write a note
saying: "He wouldn't get out of bed, please hold him accountable for his
lateness." If that means a detention, that's great. You should not protect your
kids from consequences. Older kids who miss class are going to fail, and that's
a consequence in itself.
So this week, if your child won't get out of bed or throws a fit again about
going to school, think about these three things. First, it's important to
correctly identify the problem. Problem-solving skills require
problem-identifying skills. Parents who are not equipped to do this should seek
cognitive-behavioral oriented help. Secondly, parents need to decide what
motivational tools they can use to reward kids who get out of bed on time
consistently, which to me says that they solved the problem of getting out of
bed successfully. And third, don't be afraid to use and enforce consequences and
limits. There are consequences to not meeting responsibilities in the world, and
that should start when you're a child. And the difference between punishment and
consequences needs to be understood by parents in order for them both to be used
Where Does Accountability Ultimately Lie?
I want to focus on two things here: With younger children chronically refusing
to get out of bed, parents should try to involve the school system or community-
based in home intervention resources to give them support in dealing with this
problem. With older children and teenagers, the same supports should be sought;
however, often teenagers will resist even higher levels of intervention if they
have a pattern of oppositionality and defiance. While parents should confront
this with all the resources at their command, they must also work on accepting
that teens and young adults in our society feel empowered by both the media and
their own youth culture. Parents may actually be disempowered when it comes to
getting their kids to meet certain functions or go to school. In this case, you
should seek a stronger type of intervention for your home, and also accept that
as children become teenagers they develop the power to resist parental efforts
and sometimes they actually choose to fail. I have known many young people who
have gone back to school to get GEDs, night school diplomas, trade school
certificates and college degrees after failing out of school. Parents should
work on accepting that as children become teenagers and young adults, the
responsibility, the accountability and the social consequences fall more to your
kids than to you. As a parent, do the very best you can, and then accept what
you have no control over.
Parents may often feel alone in dealing with these types of power struggle
behaviors in the home. Frankly, in many cases, they are alone. The youth
culture-and the professionals who have bought into the youth culture-promotes
the concept that kids should not be held accountable for not meeting their
responsibilities. It's irrational to think that kids are going to do the hard
work it takes to learn the skills they need to survive as adults without some
clear motivation/consequence system in their lives. As a society, and certainly
as an educational culture, we have accepted the myth that kids don't benefit
from being held sternly accountable. The acceptance of this myth is part of the
theory base that is producing and accepting so much mediocrity in our teenagers
and young adults. Easy for us, too bad for them.
(When Kids Don't Want to Go To School
reprinted with permission from
by James Lehman
For three decades, behavioral therapist James
Lehman, MSW, has worked with troubled teens and children with behavior problems.
He has developed a practical, real-life approach to managing children and
adolescents that teaches them how to solve social problems without hiding behind
a facade of defiant, disrespectful, or obnoxious behavior. He has taught his
approach to parents, teachers, state agencies and treatment centers in private
practice and now through
The Total Transformation -- a
comprehensive step-by-step, multi-media program that makes learning James'
techniques remarkably easy and helps you change your child's behavior.