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Son is angry, failing in school, & refusing to go to school...

My son is always angry. He hates school and his grades are falling, He does not want to go to school …he is in grade 10. He is angry all the time. What can I do?

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Hi G.,

Re: …grades are failing.

This is covered in the eBook [online version]. Please look for the section entitled “Read these Emails from Exasperated Parents” …then scroll to the bottom where we discuss poor academic performance.

Re: …does not want to go to school.

School refusal is equally common among boys and girls and is most likely to occur between age 5 to 11. Incidence of school refusal is highest when schools reopen after summer.

School refusal is defined as the behavior of resisting or refusing to attend a specific class or to stay in school for an entire day. Such school refusal may be accompanied by one or more of the following behaviors: complaints about stomach pain, headache, or nausea before or during school; crying before and during school; frequent visits to the school nurse; temper tantrums; specific fears; anxiety or sadness.

Truants otherwise tend to be compliant, well-behaved, and academically smart kids. Unlike truants, they stay home only with their moms & dads' knowledge. Generally, they have a close relationship with one or both moms & dads. Overall, they are good kids. So the question arises why does a youngster who wants to comply with the moms & dads' wishes and be good, drive them nuts in the morning when it's time to get ready for school?

Kids refuse to go to school for a reason, and we moms & dads should determine what that reason is.

Some kids refuse to go to school because they are overly anxious. Some may have specific fears or concerns regarding teachers, peers, or some other aspects of the school setting. Others may consciously or unconsciously worry, not about the school as such, but about being away from home. Some overanxious kids are afraid to sleep on their own, insist on having lights on in their room at night, and have nightmares about their safety or the safety of their moms & dads.

Kids who are overanxious about something at school or home need to be gradually exposed to the situation they want to avoid. Offer them emotional support and encouragement. They need to develop better means to cope with situations that provoke anxiety.

Truants tend to feel that others see them in a negative way. They become unduly self-conscious and avoid social situations in which they fear others may criticize them or make fun of them behind their back. Some have negative and troublesome relationships with their peers, and are, perhaps, teased by mischievous kids or harassed by a bully.

For kids who refuse to go to school in order to avoid a difficult social encounter, teach them effective social behaviors such as, learning to say "no" assertively, seeking help from adults, and making new friends. Seek help from school authorities if there is a genuine concern for the safety of your youngster.

In some cases, school refusal starts out with kids experiencing discomfort in the school setting, but as time goes on, they develop a liking for staying home. It dawns on them how much more fun it is to stay home than to go to school and do the "boring stuff." For example, when "Jake is allowed to stay home, he stays in bed for longer hours, plays with toys or watches TV, and gets to visit his grandparents during the day. If I were Jake, I sure would like to stay home day after day, wouldn't you?

Don't make staying home more rewarding than going to school. Eliminate or reduce all incentives for staying home. On the contrary, attach rewards and incentives to going to school and staying there throughout the school hours.

Some teens suddenly become reluctant to go to school because of an appearance and self-esteem problem, or social "image" problem prompted by a school rumor or being let down by a friend. They need appropriate skills and parental support to deal with such situations. Openness in communication and closeness with moms & dads can be really helpful.

Some kids are clinically depressed and experience significant difficulty in getting up and getting out of bed in the morning. Kids who are clinically depressed or who suffer from an anxiety disorder need professional help. Some medications cause sluggishness and may make it difficult for a youngster to be alert and active in morning. In such event, consult your doc.

Having investigated the possible causes and offered your support as a parent, you may have to "push" your youngster out to school. You may have to learn to ignore the tantrums, complaints, and the pleading to "let me stay home just for today."

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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