Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Does your child want to stay home from school?

Facebook provides many insights into people's parenting, their attitudes about children, and their relationships with their children.  I previously wrote on this topic in my post "What your words say about you."  Recently a mother posted that her child did not want to go to school.  She admitted that the child did not like school and would do anything to stay home, including faking being sick.  She was obviously frustrated and angry.  Other mothers responded that they knew exactly how she felt.  Some moms had rules like "If you are not vomiting, bleeding or have a fever you have to go to school."  And one mom suggested that the frustrated mother make staying home worse than going to school.  The moms lamented that they did not know when their children were telling the truth and that made them mad.

I understand how these mothers feel.  When my girls were still attending school it was not uncommon for me to decide if they were well enough to go to school.  There were times when I sent my girls to school even though they did not want to go.  For at least one of my children this was damaging, and I am deeply sorry for the times I made her get on the school bus despite her tears.  As parents we are inclined to give in to the power and control of the school system.  We are made to think that it is our duty and responsibility to make our children go to school.  We end up believing that it is in our children's best interest to get on that bus.  We stop listening to our inner wisdom and we stop listening to our children.

The child mentioned above told the truth: She did not like school.  She did not want to go to school.  When her mother could not or would not hear that truth, the child did what she needed to do to get her needs met: she faked being sick.  Then her mother got angry.  There is a good chance that the mom's anger was stemming from her conflict between being a good mother and meeting her child's needs, and being the good mother the school system told her to be and sending her child to school.  Perhaps she also needed to get to work and was feeling stress from that as well.

There are many reasons children do not like school.  Not all of them are life threatening, but each of them needs to be taken seriously.  As a parent it is your job to advocate for your children and make sure that their needs are being met.  The school system is focused on test scores and managing behavior, not on making sure your children are having their needs met.  Having spent six years volunteering in public school classrooms I can assure you that meeting the diverse needs of 25 children in one classroom is not possible.  Living in a world where many children go to before and after school childcare, as well as spending over six hours a day in the classroom, very few children are getting even their most basic needs met.  If your child is not one of the daycare kids, they are still in a classroom with children who spend up to twelve hours of their day in the care of someone other than their parents.  The behaviors caused by the unmet needs of these children consume the time and energy of their teachers.

Home should be a refuge, to suggest that a parent make staying home worse than going to school is tragic.  Home should be the safe place, the soft spot in a hard world, the place where a child knows they are safe, loved, cherished, listened to and respected.  If you choose to make staying home worse than going to school there is a good chance you will not be seeing much of your children once they are old enough to choose where they spend their time.  Not all children in our world have the luxury of a home that is a refuge.  For some children school is their only safe place and for these children my heart aches.

If you have a child who does not want to go to school please find out why.  Listen to your child.  With teen suicides making the news on a disturbingly frequent basis it seems all the more urgent for each of us to connect with our children.  If your child does not want to go to school there may be very serious reasons.  Some parents do not find out what they were until they are reading their child's suicide note.

Please listen to your children.  If your children are unhappy in the school system bring them home.  There are many different ways to learn and there is a way that is a good fit for you and your children.  If you need help finding options or resources please ask, I would be happy to help.

Remember that nothing is more important than your relationship with your child.  That includes school.

For more reasons your child might not want to go to school read Peter Gray's article at Psychology Today, "Why Children Protest Going to School: More evolutionary mismatch." 


  1. This is really great Jenna! I personally can't relate as my kids have never been to school but I remember being the kid forced to go...

  2. I have home schooled my girls, and I have had them in private school settings. Even in the best schools, there are situations that little ones are not able to handle...or just plain need a break from. I give my girls a break...I talk to them about what they are feeling and why...I try to help them learn to negotiate the tough world of interpersonal relationships..and when that does not work...I advocate for them...I take their part! Great insight...thank you for sharing!

  3. i have a pragma curiosity ->
    how do we know what we do or don't want to do until we have tried it?
    i'm not defending school as i knew it -
    hated it! an odious waste of my time intellectually (and hell for an introvert)
    but in general ->
    whether it's school or snorkeling or scary movies - piano or pot or prayer retreats - trying everything is too much (not to mention impossible) - so aren't parents/adults sort of inescapably in the role of filter/tour guide
    in terms of what a child is exposed to (or not!?)
    i know this role lessens as the child grows older - in which case peers play more of a role?
    And (again apart from the school issue - but around this same topic of parental responsibilities?)what about seat belts? (Jenna can make a pretty good case for Not wearing one to the prom!) i'm just using that as an example of "keeping kids safe" - which is the complement to "providing them with opportunities to broaden their horizons about what the options are" - but who determines what options are even on the table?
    When i watch scary movies i get nightmares - so i don't watch them (and i can tell people why ;-) - i'm not sorry i watched one so that i know that - on the other hand i never saw a (non-Disney) movie 'til HS - in retrospective that seems a little restricted? - but it didn't hurt me much and i've made up for it since!
    But how does somebody know they don't want to go to church if they've never been?
    Or a Irish pub? (which i found to be a lot of fun much to my surprise)
    Or an unschooling conference?
    Or school?
    Jenna's kids went and opted out -
    Stephanie, i don't know how old your kids are -
    but how would they know if they might get something positive out of at least some amount of going to school?
    I'm not meaning to be confrontational - just stuff going on in my brain that i'd love to get some other perspectives on if anybody wants to chime in!;-)

  4. "Please listen to your children." amen! i've done the same thing when they were all in school. i feel awful when i think of Eli in kindergarten crying about not wanting to go to school and me marching him down the block to school - i wish i could go back in time and never put him in that horrible hellhole of a place - he has NEVER been the same since. all these years later he has serious trust and self-doubt issues that simply were not exhibited before being sent off to that place.

    the guilt still lingers - self-forgiveness being very hard for me - especially and always when connected to my sweet children.

  5. Most families that I know who unschool make it possible for their children to go to school if the child really wants to go. The opposite is rarely true in my experience. I can't really speak to church except to say that I will support my children in exploring any faith they are interested in. If my kids wanted to go to an Irish Pub that may be more challenging since those pesky laws get in the way. And my kids aren't too keen on beer or whiskey despite how much I push it on them (okay I am kidding about the pushing of alcohol on minors). I really only have one parenting rule; Stay Safe. Of course safety is not simply defined, but if children I am responsible for are being harmful/hurtful to others or themselves then I will likely intervene. Or if I feel unsafe I will intervene, for example I will not drive a car unless everyone is wearing a seat belt. Can I ensure people won't be harmed in an accident? No. But I do believe that in many accidents seat belts and airbags, while causing harm, still usually protect from worse harm if used correctly. And if children I know and love are being harmed by school then I will intervene.

  6. My kids are 15,12,11 and 8. They don't want to go to school.
    They are free to spend their days as they wish.

    I admit I would have a hell of a time dealing if they wanted to try and see but so far so good.

    I am against compulsary school to it's very core and purpose, yes my kids know this but they have their own minds, they also have friends that go to school and hate it.

    I am not keeping them home against their will.

  7. Deb, that is heartbreaking.I know most of us wish we could go back and change something, it's hard but I believe when we know better, we do better. You have proven that!

  8. "how do we know what we do or don't want to do until we have tried it?"

    I see what you are saying and I believe that we gather information from several sources and come up with conclusions. That is how you can decide if you want to go, do, see, try something that you have never done before.

    I believe that school is damaging on so many levels it's not worth it. I wouldn't forbid my kids if they wanted to go. I would however find out why they wanted and what they expected and see if it was a need we could meet without school.
    Ultimately it's their choice.

  9. My now grown up daughter liked school and did outstandingly well. And every once in a while she would decide she didn't want to go to school that day. So she didn't. She spent the day doing whatever she pleased. The next morning, we would decide together what I would write in the note to her teacher - and yes that would usually mean pretending she'd been sick. That's the game. I took a perverse delight in making up 'acceptable' explanations for my daughter's absence because I resented being put into a position where I couldn't be honest about helping her get what she wanted. In retrospect, I wish I'd had the balls to say to the school, "My daughter is one of your top students and she works extremely hard. Why shouldn't she occasionally have a day of rest and relaxation when she feels she needs to just for that reason alone?"

  10. Jess - in Ireland the kids are allowed in the pubs - it took me awhile to get used to! - but they're not drinking - they're listening and talking and laughing and playing music in the trad jams with the rest of the humans....
    (now it seems strange that they're excluded here -> perspectives change ;-)
    AND i'd love to hear a bit more about the other side of the equation (tour guide to life?)
    Stephanie - i wasn't at all trying to imply that you are keeping your kids home against their will - sorry if it came across like that - i am sorting through some of these issues in my own life - sorting through "truths" i absorbed as a kid - i'm 45 with no kids - 2 years ago i realized that what i really wanted to do was be a writer - and travel/see/do as much as i could squeeze in to my one brief precious life - i don't have a car or a cell 'phone or a job (and i'm homeless! ;-) - i walked away from even trying to have the sort of life i was "supposed to" aspire to - and it's been amazing!!! -
    i'm really excited and inspired by what's going on with the unschoolers (full disclosure: Jenna is my sister) and for a while i've been not joining the conversation cuz i'm not a parent - but i'm sorting through Community and personal versions of a lot of what Jenna has been blogging about and i'm posting here both to try and understand more - but also to maybe broaden the discussion a bit? the balance of individual needs with the needs of the group isn't confined to the family unit - nor are the issues of safe space for honesty (see: what can your teen tell you?) which i commented on (my first comment to a blog ever -> try something new every day ;-)

  11. It is interesting to get a non parent perspective in a discussion. I have four children who have always been homeschooled, two are grown, two are still minors. My homeschooling style has evolved from school at home to almost unschooling. My own perspective is that we cannot escape making some choices for our children. Even if we have respect for them and allow them a lot of input, there are basic issues that they didn't choose - they didn't choose their parents, probably didn't have a lot of input in the area of the world in which they live or the socioeconomic status of their family. How much choice we allow them in what is left to be decided is something each family has to work out for themselves. The sheer number of choices that are to be faced in the course of raising a child is daunting if you consider them all together.

    I would not allow my young children to make the choice about school. I don't believe that they have enough information, experience or perspective to decide. Later on, I would listen a lot more. I haven't yet had a child want to go to school past the age of 8 or 9 so I don't know exactly when the balance would shift but i definitely would give my teen a large portion of the decision and listen to their reasons if they wanted to go to school.

    You can't get away from the reality that one choice precludes another, in some way at least. So if I had ever sent my children to school, then that would preclude them being "always homeschooled." I am not saying that would necessarily be a bad thing, but it can't be both ways at the same time. My oldest child and I actually did discuss a time in our life when in retrospect, we might have had her go to school for a couple of years in high school and it could have been good for her in some ways. Particularly as she is now a writer and it would have given her that experience. I am sure that you could really understand that.

    I do screw up as a parent sometimes and I am honest with my children about that, if I make a bad decision concerning them because of a lack of correct information or just because. I think that since they know that I love them unconditionally and that my intention is to do my very best for them, they readily forgive me. There have been times that they have wished that I made more decisions for them but that is part of growing up as well.

    I will say that homeschooling is one decision that my husband and I made that we haven't regretted. It is not perfect and it does leave my children being part of a minority but they have been allowed to truly be themselves and I have been free to meet their needs in a fuller way than what I see happening when families are subject to the system. I support other parents in whatever educational choice they make but I work hard to make homeschooling resources available locally to those who want to go that way.

  12. >> but how would they know if they might get something positive out of at least some amount of going to school? <<

    My four kids have also never been to school. They don't want to try it, but if they did, they would have to do a really amazing job of convincing me they had inarguable reasons for wanting to go. I'm the parent, and this is one of the decisions I have made for my family - much as I chose to put them into the carseats even when they were having a screaming fit about it. Fortunately, none of them have screamed about wanting to go to school (and of course we would have come to a compromise before they reached that stage).

    I know perfectly well that they would get *something* positive from attending. They might not even be bullied or bored, either ... but that's not the point. I have been through the school system myself - as a stellar student, I might add - and I also have a degree in education. I know exactly what the institution of schooling can offer to my children and what it will take away, and on the balance scale it takes far more away than it offers. The few good notes and highlights are not worth the tremendous losses.

    I discuss things like this with them frequently, and as my children are largely shaped by me, they tend to agree with me on philosophical issues such as this one. The funny thing is, while *I* know there are some very good things to be gained from school - and yes, I have pointed them out - my kids tend to paint with a broader brush and think everything about school is dismal and boring!

    All that to say: not everyone has to try everything to find out whether it will have significant gains for them. The point of studying history is to learn from it, to learn from other people's experience and mistakes. My kids benefit from my experience in this and many other areas, and I don't apologize for it.

  13. I appreciate the point of this piece, but I wish there were more consideration of the realities of life for 2 income families (or single patent earners) for whom keeping kids home from school is basically creating a choice between poverty and unhappiness at school. Not great options. Poverty is probably as great a risk factor for suicide as unhappiness at school. If the kid is being bullied, or feeling trapped in some way, then maybe giving up a job and living hand to mouth would be totally worth it-- then again, if the kid needs help strategizing about how to handle a difficult social situation, or a hostile teacher, or whether or not to report a friend with a drug problem or something, maybe a parent can help them work through it without risking so much. Let's consider the impact of being dirt poor, too.

  14. We have always made the choice to live on less in order to have one parent home. My husband works for a non-profit organization and we live on a very modest income. We have chosen to have a closely connect family with happy healthy children over financial security. We know single parents, two income families and one income parents who have found ways to have their children out of the school system.

    I did a quick google search and found that poverty is not considered a significant risk factor when it comes to suicide.

    "Dirt poor" families struggle financially but can have rich family relationships. Those relationships do more to prevent suicide than money.