Child who hates school may be rebel with cause

Child Life

September 22, 1996|By Beverly Mills | Beverly Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

My husband and I have been trying to instill in our son the motivation to study in school and do well. At age 12, he sees no need for formal education and has always hated school. We would appreciate any help.

K. Daniels, Buffalo, N.Y.

The excuses are familiar: "It's boring." "The teacher doesn't like me." "Why do I have to learn French? I'm going to be a professional basketball player."

Such excuses only hint at the reason a child is not giving school his best effort. The real problems may be learning disabilities, a fear of mounting responsibility, rebellion and anxiety.

First, have your child screened for dyslexia, memory deficits and attention deficit disorder, says Lawrence J. Greene, an educational therapist in Santa Cruz, Calif.

"By sixth or seventh grade, most kids [with problems like these] will simply shut down," says Greene, author of "Improving Your Child's Schoolwork" (Prima, $16.95).

"They become overwhelmed by a sense of frustration, and they rationalize that learning is not important. It's a coping mechanism."

Achievement may also dip as kids realize life isn't all play.

"In late childhood or early adolescence, children begin to see their lives are about to change," explains Chicago psychologist Sander Marcus, co-author of "Could Do Better: Why Children Underachieve and What to Do About It" (Wiley, $22.95).

With schoolwork mounting in difficulty and added responsibilities at home, many kids will underachieve, thinking they can somehow delay growing up, Marcus says.

Marcus calls this type of underachiever a "coaster." Parents with a coasting child can help by monitoring his schoolwork, Marcus advises. Verify requirements and deadlines for projects with your child's teachers. Make periodic checks but don't nag. Allow the child to take full responsibility.

Children who underachieve as an act of rebellion need to realize they are only hurting themselves -- not their teachers or parents -- by purposely sabotaging their grades, Marcus says.

When anxieties cause underachievement, children may benefit from relaxation techniques, regular exercise, breaking projects into manageable parts and realizing that every report doesn't have to be perfect.

Here are more ideas from parents and the experts:

Capitalize on a child's interests, suggests Benjamin Uchytil, a parent from Baltimore. "If the child is an artist, the parents can encourage him to read books about famous artists of the past for history class."

Show him you value education by volunteering at his school, recommends Barb Wingenfeld of Ohio.

Help your child make the connection between success in school and future success, advises Susan Easton of Rosendale, Wis. Arrange for him to meet people with careers he may want to pursue. Encourage the child to ask questions about education, pay and advancement.

Don't let underachievement dominate your relationship. Set aside times when conversation about school is off-limits. Make sure your child has good study and organizational skills, which can make the difference between an A student and a C student, Greene says.

Don't try to convince your child that a particular class he detests is important for success in life, Marcus advises. Instead, emphasize the importance of the grade he receives.

Support your child's dreams, but don't let his dreams of basketball stardom be an excuse for poor academics. "Go through a reality check with him," Greene says. Point out that he needs a backup plan.

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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