Sunday 21 January 2018

David Coleman Column: My child hates school – how can I prepare her for September?

Bad day
Bad day
David Coleman

David Coleman

I have a six-year-old girl, an only child, who has just finished senior infants. Increasingly towards the end of school it became a nightmare getting her into class each day. She has always said she hates school but it was especially bad in the last few months.

I work full-time and I leave the house at 8am every morning. I always had her ready for school before I left.

Her dad is a stay-at-home father since she was born and he used to take her to school and pick her up.

Some mornings she might have been fine but on others she cried, and I mean really cried, from the time I left until she got to school.

Some weeks I tried to change my routine to be able to bring her to school to instill into her that she has to go.

I feel she just acts up so that she can get around her dad, as he doesn't like to see her upset.

So, while we have time to prepare over the summer, I'm looking for advice about how to handle it for September. I really couldn't bear a re-run of last year.

I KNOW you said that your daughter has always hated school but I am intrigued whenever things seem to worsen or increase in intensity during a short period.

Consequently, I wonder what may have been going on for your daughter in the last few months of this year that she became especially oppositional and reluctant to attend?

It may be that there is some issue there between her and her teacher (that may or may not continue if her teacher remains the same next year). It may also be that there is some issue between her and her peers that will need to be resolved as she will definitely be with them again in September.

Have you any sense of her academic ability? It may be that she really struggles to keep up with the 'work' in school to the point that she would rather avoid it by staying home from school.

Now that schools have broken up for the summer break it could be difficult to pursue these various possible issues, but do be alert to them and follow up when she starts back in September.

Another issue may relate to a sense of separation anxiety that she feels. She may have a general sense of insecurity heading off every morning. You sound like you are very involved with her early in the morning but then you typically leave her to go to work.

While this is a perfectly appropriate thing to do, we know that different children will have many different responses to parents leaving them. The key thing with separation anxiety is the confidence, warmth and reassurance of the adult that remains with the child.

So, I wonder how her dad then responds to her when you go. He needs to be warm, understanding and empathetic with her if she is sad about you being gone. He needs to recognise that she may be upset.

Indeed, if he misses out on this she may just get increasingly distressed and direct all of her anxiety on to school.

It doesn't sound like her dad is really able to contain and regulate any strong feelings that she has. He doesn't seem to be able to emotionally 'hold' her. By this I mean sticking with her distress, acknowledging it, soothing it and reassuring her that even though she feels upset now, things will be okay.

This, too, is an area that you and her dad need to explore and possibly address. You might want to get help from a child psychologist to learn how to become very firm with her while remaining warm, understanding and responsive to her.

Irish Independent

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