Help me Sara: My 10-year-old says he doesn’t want to go back to school



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We have had a great time with the kids this summer – family vacations,
sleeping in late, having fun. Midway through the summer, my 10-year-old
began saying that he doesn’t want to go back to school. Last year
was just the same. He wouldn’t even go back-to-school shopping. He
says we can’t make him. Is this normal? Help me Sara!

Answer:

Your opening sentence is the best
explanation for your son’s behaviour –
vacations, sleeping in, having fun. Who
wants to give this up to return to early
morning risings and very little time for
unstructured play? The transition from
free time in the sunshine to the confi nes of
a school is not eagerly anticipated by most.
And sometimes anticipation can be worse
than the actual thing you’re anticipating!
Being resistant to shopping for back-toschool
supplies is your son’s way of denying
that school is just around the corner. And
telling you that you can’t make him go
shopping is his way of asserting control –
even though he knows that he will have to go
to school on the first day.

My advice is to acknowledge and validate
his feelings, resist pressuring him to prepare
and don’t panic that you won’t have everything
organized in time. There’s an increased
likelihood that he will come around sooner,
rather than later, if you handle with caution.

To validate his feelings, say something like
“I know it’s hard to think about going back
to school after so many weeks of not having
to study, waking up late and having so much
free time. Lots of kids (and teachers!) feel this
way.” Keep in mind that the goal is not to solve
the problem. It is to make him feel heard and
supported. Then, don’t focus on school unless
you have to.

About two weeks before school begins, if he
still seems resistant to preparing – physically
and psychologically – you may need to
intervene gently. My daughter prepares by
putting sticky notes on her wall. Each note has
a number on it, so if there are two weeks before
school begins, she posts notes numbered 1 to
14. At the beginning of each new day, the sticky
note from the day before is thrown away. This
way, your son has a visual reminder of the
number of days left. This may help him prepare
for the first day of school, even if he’s feeling
anxious about it.

Ideally, a child at age 10 will help organize
his or her own supplies – either from recycling
old stuff or fi guring out what needs to be
purchased – before the first day of school. If
your child refuses to be involved, then you
can say something like “I understand that you
don’t want to deal with anything school-related
and that’s your choice, but if you don’t get your
supplies organized, then you will go back to
school without them.” Set a date by which you
are willing to help him find or purchase these
supplies so that you are not running around the
day before (unless you don’t mind doing so).

The bottom line: Validate your child’s
feelings while guiding him in the transition
from summer holidays to back to school. Be
patient but remind him of the consequences if
he does not prepare for his first day back and
then allow him to experience these.

Sara Dimerman is a Psychologist, author and parenting expert in the Greater Toronto Area. Read more at helpmesara.com.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2013.

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