By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist
My son has been saying that he hates school. He will sometimes cry in the morning and say he doesn't want to go. His teacher has said when he is in school he seems to do OK. He gets along with everyone, and there aren't any behavior problems. He states he likes his teacher but doesn't like going. He really hasn't been able to articulate why he doesn't want to go.
He does struggle a bit with math, but this was an issue before math became a problem for him. How can I help him enjoy school and should I be concerned that this has lasted the school year?
This may simply be a matter of maturity. First grade is often the first time that youngsters have spent the entire day away from home, which can be overwhelming. As such, the adjustment can take a long time and behaviors can vary widely. There are a few things you can do to help him along the way.
First, make sure your son is getting enough sleep each night. Research has shown that poor or inadequate sleep can lead to mood swings, behavioral problems and even problems with learning. According to the National Sleep Foundation, school-aged children require 10-11 hours of sleep each night. Also, wake him early enough so that he can get ready for school in a relaxed fashion and enjoy a healthy breakfast.
Second, find ways to help your son feel more connected to his school. See that he participates in after-school activities (Cub Scouts, team sports) or group events sponsored by the school. Plan weekend play dates for him with peers from his classroom, so that he develops friendships and looks forward to seeing the other children at school. Ensure that you do this over the summer, as well, so he stays connected during the long break.
Third, monitor your own reactions to his distress. Children are amazingly perceptive when it comes to their parents' emotions. Your son may be picking up on your feelings of concern, which in turn may fuel his anxiety and his desire to stay close to you. Questioning him about his dislike of school may be reinforcing in some way; instead, talk to him about his school day with enthusiasm, giving reinforcement for positive reports and only limited attention to negative reports.
Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.
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