I am dealing with my first grader not wanting to go to school. He went to Montessori school for Pre-K and K. Now he is in private school, but it is traditional classroom and teaching.
It's always "my belly hurts," and if that doesn't work it moves up to his throat, or "I miss you," and the list grows as the new excuse doesn't work. He was fine in September, then it started in November and we found that he didn't want to go to after care. So I got my parents to pick him up on those days and it got better. But now it started again about 2 weeks ago. He is not admitting to any reason at school.
This week I had to take him right to the classroom and give his bag to the teacher, while he was crying and saying "NO, I want to go home." The next day they had to physically hold him while I left. Then they said as soon as I was gone he was fine. I'm afraid this can make it worse; I feel like I'm abandoning him.
He is one of the smartest if not THE smartest kid in the class. He always finishes his work early, and out of 2 weeks worth of work, including tests, if there are 5 mistakes it's a lot. He gets his spelling words for the week on Monday; Monday evening he can pass the test. He says all they do is work all day. He likes the subjects that have new material often.
I'm afraid that he is getting bored and is not being challenged enough. Can this cause school reluctance?
I want to take care of this ASAP before it causes teasing at school. Now the other kids are seeing his reluctance in the morning and trying to reassure him, but it doesn't seem to help much. He is very popular but I'm afraid that won't last if this continues.
Any help or suggestions are appreciated.
Mike, Hopatcong, NJ
As mean as you may feel, you are doing the right thing by taking him to school, even if it means handing him over while he's crying. Otherwise, school reluctance can turn into school phobia and then you've got an even worse problem on your hands.
A little developmental grounding: First grade is the most common time for school reluctance because a new level of cognition kicks in which enables a child to make more accurate observations, including coming to conclusions about themselves: "I can write my name better than X, Y, Z but I can't run as fast as they can." Whether the conclusion is accurate, of course, isn't the point; the child's perception is.
Not that he's going to tell you what's bothering him. But it is helpful on a day when he didn't want to go to school to talk to him about it at the end of the day. "Do you remember when you didn't want to go to school this morning? Do you remember why you didn't want to go?" If he does, then hopefully he will give you some detail. If he doesn't remember, that doesn't mean he really doesn't remember, it just means he doesn't want to talk about it.
The typical reason for a first grader to have school reluctance is that something caused him to be anxious, afraid, or embarrassed. It could be something as ordinary as the perfume the teacher wears, a smell in the bathroom, or where he sits. Someone teased him because his zipper was open. The teacher expects him to be able to do something he can't do and he's ashamed or embarrassed. The older kids on the bus frighten him. The list is long. Be prepared for anything and let him know that no reason is silly or stupid. If he can't give you a reason, it's safe to assume it falls into the anxious, afraid or embarrassed realm. Unless:
There's something dramatic and new going on at home, like a sick parent; new baby; parent with a new job or without any job. These things can cause worry in a child and distract and derail him, especially if he thinks you need him at home with you.
No matter what you learn, here's something to say: (By the way, I'm quoting from my own book, "Put Yourself in Their Shoes, Understanding How Your Children See the World," page 136, chapter on "School Days."):
"I know some days things happen at school that make you wish you didn't have to go. But you do have to go. Tonight we can talk about how the day was for you." Also: "What can I do to make it easier for you/to help you go to school today?" Talk ahead of time about what will happen when the school bus arrives. Does he have someone to sit with? Perhaps he'd like to sit behind the driver until he makes friends.
If you learn there is a specific problem, offer support and help to solve it but be clear that still isn't a reason not to go. At this age, it is appropriate to go to the teacher whether you can pinpoint a problem or not. A teacher needs to know that a first grader does not want to go to school. Don't wait for the conference in October! Not only that, you also should expect the teacher to be willing and able to work with you to figure this out.
The only reason to keep him home is if you are sure he is sick, or if you think he is unsafe, for instance, a bully's beating him up on the bus.
The bottom line is this: school reluctance is something educators and psychologists take very seriously. Don't take a wait-and-see-tomorrow-may-be-better attitude.
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