school readiness

What to Do When Your Child Says “I Don’t Wanna Go to School”

Parent Taking Child To Pre School

At some point, most children go through a phase of not wanting to go to school. For others, that push can ebb and flo for years. My younger daughter, Claire, has always had a difficult time going back after the Winter Break. There were tears in January throughout elementary school.

Smooth, calm morning – I understand their not wanting to go to school upset alone can be enough to knockout off the feeling of a smooth, calm morning. They may lose it, but you need to stay calm. Be the rock. If you need ideas to meet this goal, you might read Screamfree Parenting by Runkel or Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Markham.

Matter of fact empathy – When your child is upset, it is best to start there. Matter of fact empathy mean acknowledge the emotion, then continue with the routine. On a difficult morning this might be, “I know you are upset, you don’t want to go,” as you help put on their shoes, and, “I hear you want to stay home. I like staying home with you too,” as you walk them in. You are recognizing emotions and moving forward. Avoid starting with denial or reasoning. Denial would be “You like school. This shouldn’t be so hard.” Reasoning is “All of your friends are there, you’ll have fun at school.” Denial and reasoning are fuel for the argument.

Focus on the routine – It may be helpful to refocus on the routine. Talk to your child about the time available, steps that need to be done and the order. It may be helpful to make a chart together to keep track of the morning. Within each step, it’s often good to offer choices or challenges. When it’s time to get dressed, they might get dressed on the bed or the floor. A challenge might be racing you to get dressed. Here’s a blog post focused on improving your morning routine. If it is truly difficult to get through the morning, you might also start 15 minutes earlier to give everyone a chance to relax.

Note any patterns – By day two, the second year of Claire’s January blues, I was ready. Maybe it’s worse in September in your house. Maybe Mondays each week are hardest. Most things are easier when you see them coming. Knowing the pattern can help you plan.

Speak with their teacher – Whenever there’s a school related difficulty, it’s good to check in with the teacher. The teacher may be able to point to something specific happening at school, or may let you know everything seems fine once child is there. Either way, it’s helpful information. You might also ask the teacher for help. This might include setting up a specific way for your child to start school each day. Coming into a known situation (everyday the first thing will be this) may be easier than not knowing day-to-day. This might be giving your child a morning buddy; a friend to be together with for first transition activities and classwork.

Speak with your child – Occasionally and out of the moment, ask them what’s going on in the mornings before school. Ask what they are thinking about. Ask if there’s anything they are happy about, worried about, excited about or scared about at school. One question here and there, in a relaxed tone, at a calm time may be helpful.

Organize one-on-one playdates with a variety of kids from the class – Playdates give kids a chance to get to know their classmates. The more positive social connections they have with classmates; the more they might want to go to school.

Carpool – So this might be more time consumming than the initial push to avoid school, but your child may be more willing to go if they arrive with a friend. If your child is a bus rider this may mean having a bus stop buddy or asking the bus driver to help with seating friends together.

Alternate who manages the morning or drop off – It may be easier for a child to move through the morning with or separate from one parent than another, or from a sitter or grandparent versus a parent (if that’s available, even short term).

Things to bring – Not everyday, but occasionally, it may be helpful to have something for your child to take to or deliver to school. This might be something small to show his teachers or friends, a note he wrote or drew to someone, a snack to share with the class or a thing you need delivered to the office or guidance counselor.

Open talk time – As children move into late elementary school, keeping communication open is so important. Open talk time is an easy way to work towards that goal. This allows time for the child to vent and be heard, and for you both to work through things in a calm exchange.

Address any known causes – If there are academic concerns, revisit your homework plans, find new ways to practice the needed skills or hire a tutor. If it’s a social concern, meet with the guidance counselor, coach your child on ways to manage or follow up with the teacher. On either front, continue to monitor and follow up with interventions as needed. Do what’s needed to support your child in the area of concern.

Read related storybooks – For younger children, these books could be I Love You All Day Long, Llama Llama Misses Mama, The Kissing Hand or DW’s Guide to Preschool. For older children, Sophie’s Squash Go to School, The Brand New Kid or Sometimes I Worry Too Much but Now I Know How to Stop.

Read related parenting books – If it becomes a longer term or bigger issue, helpful parenting books include Helping Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety, or School Refusal by Eisen and Engler or When Children Refuse School by Kearney and Albano.

There are also therapists who work with children around anxiety issues and school refusal.

 

Make the Most of Your Parent-Teacher Conferences: For Parents AND for Teachers

little cute boy in glasses with young real teacher, classroom studying

For Parents:

Before

Consider your compliments, questions and concerns – It is nice to be able to greet your child’s teacher with something pleasant. Conferences are also a time to share your concerns about your child, the class or the school, and to ask any questions that you have. It’s best to be prepared. Take a few days to think about this, and jot yourself a few notes.

By the time your child is in grade school, ask if they have any compliments, questions or concerns – I started asking my children this before conferences when they were in preschool. Their inputs became helpful around third grade.

Know the time limits and be on time – Know that this is a full day for your child’s teacher. At many schools, conferences are scheduled back to back. Be on time. If it becomes apparent that you need more time, ask to schedule a follow up phone call or conference.

Go prepared – It’s good to have a pencil and paper with you (or notes on your phone IF you can really narrow your focus to notes). If you are a note taker, feel free to take notes throughout the conference. Even if you aren’t, you might need to jot down a book title or important dates.

During

Follow the teacher’s structure – Hopefully the teacher will let you know an outline of the time available. Please respect that outline.

Listen with an open mind – This is a time for your child’s teacher to share about your child’s strengths and any concerns in the classroom. This is also a time for the teacher to make recommendations for school and home about how to work on and improve any areas of concern. This may be difficult to hear. It is important to keep an open mind and really listen.

Ask yourself, does that sound like my child – Hopefully, your teacher is pausing to ask you at least occasionally if this sounds like your child. It can be helpful to know going in that many children behave differently at home than they do at school. It is normal. It’s still good to consider where there is overlap.

Participate in discussion of any recommendations – When there are concerns, teachers should be making recommendations of things that may be helpful to do at home and in the classroom to best address the issue. It is helpful if parents add ideas, note what has or hasn’t worked before, and make suggestions for classroom (know that these may or may not be taken for a range of reasons).

Even when there is a disagreement, err on the side of support – You may entirely disagree with particular feedback you are getting. It is fine to say that you disagree. Also remember the point above, your child may be functioning differently at school than at home. It can be helpful to still take note and commit to further observation or investigation. When there is debate, you might ask if another teacher or guidance counselor could also observe and weigh in. You might ask the teacher to provide the related recommendations and continue to track progress so you have more time to consider. Err on the side of finding beneficial ways to learn more and move forward together.

Consider any suggested screenings or evaluations – Again, keep an open mind. Screenings or evaluations often provide beneficial answers, and may connect children to valuable services. Here are helpful ways to think about early evaluations and intervention.

If you aren’t taking notes on your phone, turn your phone OFF – This is your child. This is your child’s teacher sharing time and valuable information.

After

Follow through on recommendations – If there are areas of concern, it is so helpful to follow through with recommendations. If they are beneficial, your child is ahead. If they don’t work, at least you can rule out the approach.

Schedule screenings or evaluations – Some evaluations take just a few days to schedule. Others can take several months. Good to make phone calls within a day or two.

Note follow up questions and concerns – As you work on recommendations or observe your child, it can be helpful to take notes on progress and jot any questions that come up.

If needed, schedule a follow up phone call or conference – It is fine to request to touch base with teachers moving forward.

For Teachers:

Before

Encourage parents to be prepared – When you announce conference times, it is nice to give parents a bit of guidance. This might be encouraging them to think about their questions and concerns, or letting them know the outline of your time at conferences (below).

Prepare yourself – Plan in depth for each conference. Consider individual strengths and any concerns for each child. Review your recommendations, and talk out loud through any potentially difficult conversations you are aware of.

Bring props – This might be a few photos of a recent class activity, or the products of a class project. It can be nice to have something to show as part of your greeting.

Bring things to send home – This might include the weekly or monthly plans, a lunch calendar or any of the student’s recent art. It might be best to save this as a transition to mark the end of the conference.

Bring examples of any strengths or concerns that you can – If you are going to make a point about the child’s drawing or writing, bring a sample.

Set start and end times (with at least 5 minutes between) – However long your conferences are set for, clearly share the start and end time with parents.

Send reminders – Everyone is so busy these days, good to send several reminders.

Bring extra paper and pencils – It’s nice to have these on hand to offer parents if they’d like to take notes.

Bring tissues – Someone may cry.

During

Stay on schedule – If you find you need more time, it’s best to schedule a follow up phone call or conference.

Take a few notes throughout the conference time – For the teacher, taking a few notes helps to keep the conversation on track.

Slow down – This is important information for parents. You are sharing about how their child is doing in school, and possibly sharing new concerns. It is helpful to slow down particularly when speaking about concerns and recommendations.

Speak plainly – It’s best to avoid any educational jargon.

Let parents know the order of the conference – Once you’ve greeted parents, it can be helpful to let them know the order of the conference. For my conferences, this would be first sharing strengths, then discussing any concerns and recommendations, then opening the time to answering parents questions. Parents may be able to better relax and listen once they know there is time built in for questions.

Within strengths – Plan to share two or three strengths. One can be a personality trait. Aim for the next one or two to be new skills or growing abilities. Be sure to have an anecdote or work sample to support each point.

Within concerns – You may not have concerns for all of your conferences. For the ones that do, limit to two or three concerns. Again, be sure to have an anecdote or work sample to support each point. Take care to word your concerns in hearable language, meaning they’re stated in a positive way. Rather than starting with, “John is being so aggressive when he is angry,” you might say, “we are working on having John use gentle hands even when he is angry.” You can go on to talk about the aggressive behavior. Be sure that for every concern you have, you have at least four recommendations readily available for how to work on the area of concern. This should include at least two ways to address this at school and two ways at home.

Ask if they share the same view – It can be helpful for strengths and concerns to at least occasionally ask if parents have seen this at home or if it sounds familiar. This brings the parent into the conversation, so it’s not a one-sided listing.

Recommendations – The reason for having at least four recommendations available is, during the conference some of your recommendations may be knocked out. Parents may let you know that something’s already been done, or why it likely won’t work. You might still try it, or you might decide to take it off the list. The point is that recommendations are a work in progress. It is good to ask parents what they think about the recommendations, and if they have any ideas to add for school or home. Recommendations might include having a related screening or evaluation.

Avoid all diagnostic language – When listing concerns and recommendations, avoid making, or guessing, at any diagnosis. Rather than giving a label to your concern, focus on fully describing the concern, any related behaviors you are seeing and any impact on the child. Avoid saying you “suspect a language delay,” rather explain your concerns about the language you are hearing and gives examples. Any impact might include the child’s own frustration in communicating, or missing out on play because the others often don’t understand his speech if this is what you are seeing. It is fine to talk about developmental expectations if you have a good reference point.

If you are recommending a screening or evaluation, helpful to provide parents a list of providers – If you are suggesting a Speech/Language evaluation, it’s helpful to give parents a list of area providers. Given the list, parents are more likely to make the contact.

Within questions – Be open to all questions. If you can’t provide an answer, note the question and make a plan to contact parents once you have an answer.

End on a positive – Plan ahead to end on a positive note. It’s all the better if this can be in addition to the previously listed strengths.

After 

Note if there are disagreements, upsets, unanswered questions, a need to schedule a follow-up conference or anything else that seems important – This is best done immediately after the conference. Take notes when your memory is fresh. Write this in objective language.

Follow through on recommendations – Move forward with fully implementing recommendations.

Note follow up questions or concerns – As you work on recommendations or observe the child, it can be helpful to take notes on progress and jot down any questions that come up.

If needed, schedule a follow up phone call or conference – If there were any recommendations made, it’s good to schedule a time to follow up. This will help everyone be accountable, and let’s you discuss any changes or additional recommendations that need to be made.

 

A Great Start to the School Year

Group of Elementary Pupils In Classroom

After a relaxing summer, getting into the school routine can be a tough transition.  There are lots of small things to do to help the school year get off to a great start.

  • Good night, good breakfast and calm morning – Do what you can the night before including pack lunches, pick outfits and review the schedule. Have a morning routine that ends with a few minutes for something your child enjoy, like legos or playing with the dog. It gives them something to work towards and gives you a time buffer. It may be helpful to be as routine about the mornings as you are about bedtimes.
  • Take advantage of preview experiences – This might include visiting the schools website with your child, playing on the school’s playground, and participating in home or early school visits. Anything to help your child feel familiar with their school.
  • Expect your child to be tired for at least the first several weeks. – This may mean you’ll see more acting out or difficult afternoons. It’s good to lay as low on outside activities as you can. It may be helpful to reinstitute an afternoon quiet time for a while.
  • Be on time – Schools usually do something predictable during the drop off window so children feel more comfortable. It helps your child to know what to expect as they enter. If you are late, the child has no idea what they are walking into. Being on time also ensures they are there for the morning planning time which can help a child feel settled.
  • Participate in school as you can – Be a room parent, volunteer to read, make play-doh or send in party supplies. Your child sees that you value school which goes a long way towards their motivation.
  • Plan playdates – It’s important to have time with a wide variety of kids in the class, not just their favorite one or two. It broadens your child’s social network and at some point during the year they will likely have to work in class with everybody.
  • Ask more interesting questions – Many parents note children aren’t great at answering, “what did you do at school today?” It’s helpful to ask different and more interesting questions each day like, “who did you sit with at lunch?” or, “did anything funny happen today?” It might also be helpful to wait and ask after they’ve had a bit of time away from school.
  • Read the Family Handbook – Schools work hard to write and update their manuals. Many of the questions you have throughout the year about school policies and calendars are answered in the handbook. Read it.
  • Remind them of previous positive transitions – Remind your child of how much fun it was to start at a new camp last summer or to join join a new soccer team. Tell upbeat stories about when you started school.
  • Read upbeat children’s story books about the start of school – Upbeat books include DW’s Guide to Preschool by Brown, What to Expect at Preschool by Murkoff, If You Take a Mouse to School by Numeroff, Kindergarten Here I Come by Steinberg and Welcome to Kindergarten by Rockwell.
  • Know the drop off and pick up policies – Share the plan for drop off and pick up with your child. As best you can, be sure they know where to go and what to do.
  • If there is separation anxiety – It can be helpful to learn about and have a real plan for separation. This may vary by age and by school logistics. Here is a link to a free 20 minute interview I gave about managing separation anxiety: http://www.parentsperspective.org/index.php?s=separation

Giving Challenges Builds Self Esteem

Portrait of a beautiful liitle girl close-up

A foundation piece of self-esteem is a child’s growing sense of skills and abilities. Are they being challenged? Are they learning new things?

An easy way to build this in is giving challenges in play. If they are building with blocks, challenge them to build it taller. If they are climbing, challenge them to do it in a new way. If they are playing with play-doh, challenge them to make some new creation. As they rise to meet the challenge in play, they are learning to take on challenges in life.

Another way to provide this is to enroll them in classes that provide new levels of challenges as they progress. This would include sports, musical instruments, cooking classes and foreign languages.

For self esteem, it can be helpful to focus most on their individual progress and their skills rather than the competition.

Once they are school age, a version of this would be to have them teach you one new thing they learned in school each week. This is a challenge to remember something and be able to explain it in detail to you. For challenges to be beneficial in this way overtime, they don’t have to be big. These can be small challenges given regularly.

Parents, Please Assume Positive Intent from Teachers

Child with teacher drawing in playroom

It’s the start of a new school year. This may be your first year of preschool, or your third year at an elementary school. Wherever your child is in their school career, there is always the possibility of your child having difficulty in the classroom or with the program. When this happens, it is often the teacher bringing the issue to the parents’ attention. Unfortunately many parents first response is to kill the messenger. This is an unproductive way to start. It’s better for parents to take a deep breath and realize the teacher is almost always also working with the child’s best interest at heart. The teacher may be wrong, there may be great disagreements about how to move forward, but they are likely coming from a good place. Believe me, I preach this to teachers as well. Parents almost always are working with good intent.

When I taught preschool full-time, we had a three-and-a-half year old that was exhausted and fell asleep the minute he laid down at naptime everyday. By state guidelines, he was not to be given any activity for the first 30 minutes to keep him awake, and was then allowed, if he fell asleep, to sleep the full two hour rest period. This made the parents unhappy because on days he slept the full two hours, he was wide awake at home until 11:00 p.m. despite the consistent 9:00 p.m. tuck-in time. On weekends, he didn’t nap, made it through the day and fell asleep easily at 9:00pm. The teachers weren’t trying to make life harder for this family, they were following the state guidelines. The parents weren’t trying to ruin the teacher’s or their child’s day, they wanted a bit of sanity in the evenings at home. Sure, it’s a difficult situation, and one that didn’t work itself out until the child was in an older classroom with shorter nap requirements, but teachers assuming parents want to exhaust the child and parents assuming teachers are just being rigid wouldn’t help the matter.

When there is a disagreement with teachers or the school, it is also good practice for parents to use their most positive language when speaking about this in front of their children. If they are at all aware of the situation (and they are), it is best for parents to say things like, “we are working this out with your teacher. She is being helpful,” or, “we’ll make a good plan with the school. These things take time,” rather than throwing the teacher or school under the bus. However it works out, your child will likely be with the teacher in some way moving forward, and you want them to keep a positive attitude with that teacher in particular and about school in general in the long run.

Corrections Shouldn’t Feel Like Corrections

The theme this week is working through problem solving with your children. Our third guideline is ‘corrections shouldn’t feel like corrections.’

This guideline is easier to follow with younger children. When a two-year-old says, “I need a ram-baid,” we don’t tend to correct in a heavy way such as, “no, you said that wrong! It is band-aid, not ram-baid.” Rather than feeling like a correction, you might say, “oh, you need a band-aid. let’s go get you a band-aid.” You might very clearly enunciate the correct word, but the words all together didn’t feel like a correction.

This guideline is harder to follow as children get older. When your fourth grader has gotten the last two math problems wrong, and is working through a third in the same incorrect way, it is common for parents to say, “no, you’re getting this one wrong too! Why aren’t you thinking?” When corrections feel like corrections, we tend to turn children off to the problem solving process. By all means, you may need to correct the math problems, just use lighter language. This might be something like, “I see your having some trouble working through, how can I help?” or, “hmmm, this seems tough. Why don’t you walk me through the last problem, and we’ll work together?” Yes, you are correcting, but it doesn’t feel like correction.

The idea here is to keep them engaged in the problem solving process.

Give Hints and Suggestions Not Answers

Continuing the theme of helping children become independent problem solvers, give hints and suggestions not outright answers.

A few examples:

  • When your first graders asks, “mommy, how do you spell elephant?” Avoid spelling it for them. Give hints and suggestions for how they can spell it. You might offer to help them learn to look it up in the dictionary. If your school encourages inventive spelling (and I hope they do through second grade), you might say, “listen to the word and try to figure out what sounds you hear, those are the letters to write down,” and then slowly, stretch out and clearly enunciate, “el-e-phant.” Here you are teaching them ways, not just to spell elephant, but also how to figure out future words.
  • When your fourth grader asks you for the answer to a long multiplication problem, you might offer to do the first step, or you might offer to work through another similar problem to teach them the steps, and then stay with them while they work through their own. You might offer to read aloud the pages of their textbook that cover how to solve these problems.

The idea is to give them enough to get back on track. You are supporting the problem solving process without doing the actual work for them. You are also hoping to provide them strategies for the next go around.

Ask Them How They Want to Be Helped

Whether your four-year-old is working on a hard puzzle, or your fourth grader is struggling through math homework, when they ask for your help, start by asking them how they would like to be helped. If you swoop in and give them your brand of helping, you may be doing too much, which discourages independent problem solving or frustrating the system.

I learned this the hard way. When my older daughter was learning to read, she asked me to please just give her the word when she got stuck. I explained that, if I just gave her the word, she wouldn’t learn how to best sound out words on her own. Her valid point back was that when she was reading and had to stop to sound out words, she would lose the storyline and be confused going forward. She also said she was getting plenty of practice sounding out new words at school, thank you very much. So, I started just giving her the words when she was stuck. This lasted a few months as she was gaining skills at school and then it tapered off.

When my younger daughter was learning to read, and she would get stuck on a word, I just gave it to her. We went on like this for the first several months. One day after I gave her a word, she stopped and said, “please stop doing that! If you keep giving me the words when I am stuck, I will never learn how to read them myself.” She was right, I was slowing her progress and should have asked her how she wanted to be helped.

Soon after they are old enough to ask for help, they are likely old enough to explain how they would like to be helped.

Building Academic Motivation

Throughout your child’s education, it is important to build a sense of home-school connection. There is benefit for your child’s academic motivation if they feel you value their school, and that their school welcomes you. There are so many ways you can work to build this bridge.

  • Take an interest in their progress – Ask how school is going, what they do or don’t enjoy about their day and keep up with their grades. This also allows you to intervene early if there is a concern.
  • Check and discuss their homework – Unless their teacher says otherwise, err on the side of checking homework for completeness and effort rather than accuracy. If you do check for accuracy, make a note to let the teacher know where they originally struggled.
  • Expand on school learning – If they are learning about a war, take them to that monument. If they are learning to count money, make them the family banker who pays with cash and counts in both directions for every purchase.
  • Participate at school when and how you can – If you have the time, be a room parent. If not, go on the fieldtrips and send in supplies whenever you can. Be sure to meet the teacher, and at least keep up with the PTA.

Other way to build motivation:

  • Read aloud everyday – Reading skills are essential for success across academic subjects. Building a love of reading and related skills is a strong piece of later academic motivation.
  • Help them to fully investigate their own areas of interest – If your child is interested in the rainforest, take them to the rainforest room at the aquarium and the zoo, watch the rainforest episode of Magic School Bus or join the Rainforest Alliance.
  • Share your own learning – Let them know when you take classes or read books on new topics, let them know you are excited about learning.

To learn more about this and other ways to build motivation and manage homework, join me for my workshop on Managing Homework and Academic Motivation. This is scheduled for September 18th from 7:00-9:00 p.m. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/org/283710166?s=1328924.

Play Builds Academic Foundation

Our Preschool Play Program is very play based. Open play is available the whole class time, with group play activities presented throughout. While we don’t focus on academics, we have a firm belief that play provides a strong foundation for later academics. Here are a few ways:

  • Challenges in Play Build a Sense of Industry– The more you can challenge kids to do something faster, build something taller, to problem solve together or think about something in a new way, the more they are having experiences at rising to meet challenges. As children meet challenges, they build an ‘I can do it’ or ‘I can try it’ attitude which is helpful later in the classroom.
  • Pretend Play Builds Representational Thinking– It is a cognitive jump when children start using representation in play. This happens when they use the block as a ‘telephone,’ or the sidewalk as their ‘pool.’ Representational thinking happens most often during pretend play. It lays foundation for later symbol use and academic representation. This means the letter ‘B’ can more easily represent the sound ‘buh,’ and the number 3 can more easily represent three objects.
  • Open Ended Toys Pull for More Flexible Use and Creative Problem Solving – Children playing with basic toys such as blocks, balls, art and craft supplies and dolls tend to use the toys in more flexible ways. Buy toys that do less, so the children will do more. This means, if you are buying a doll, buy the basic one rather than the one that talks or grows hair. When the doll has a given function, children play in a more narrow way; buy open ended. Flexible use of toys often includes more creative problem solving in play.
  • Reading Aloud Daily Helps Build Successful Readers– Reading aloud with children to encourage a love of stories and books is one of the single most important factors in their eventual reading success.
  • Social Problem Solving Practice Benefits Group Work – Much of elementary school work happens in groups. The more practice children have at solving social conflicts the better.
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