Dr. Wind: It seems like my son doesn’t want to learn. School is a daily struggle. It’s a major battle to get him to do his homework. A teacher has already contacted me because he is in trouble and the school year has hardly started. What can I do to help him?
Answer: When school is a struggle, many parents assume it is because their child is lazy, “acting out,” stubborn or rebellious or just trying to get his or her own way. While that can certainly be the case, often, it is not. Many other issues could be causing this problem. Parents, sometimes with the help of teachers, counselors, and other professionals must evaluate their child thoroughly before concluding he or she is just being difficult.
Some of these issues are so obvious they are often overlooked. The first is sleep, and I have written about that in detail in a previous column. Basically every school age child (even teenagers until you stop growing) needs 9 or more hours of sleep a night. If they are not getting enough sleep, or if their sleep is disturbed, they wake up tired and it can have negative effects on all aspects of life, including school, throughout the day.
So can nutrition, or lack thereof. Too many kids skip breakfast or eat something full of sugar and carbohydrates and lacking protein or fiber. Then they compound the damage by eating only the junk food available at lunch. This can produce a rollercoaster effect driven by wide swings in blood sugar, significantly affecting mood and energy, two hours up, two hours down, two more hours up and the next two hours down again and they end their school day by falling asleep as soon as they get home. Without the proper fuel, their bodies can’t work well, and performance suffers.
If your son sleeps and eats well and is having problems, the next thing I would suggest is taking him to your pediatrician and getting him both a vision and hearing test. A student who has problems hearing or seeing will absolutely have problems learning, paying attention and completing tasks.
If you rule out all of these physical reasons for difficulty in school, you should next examine his social situation. The two most common social problems are disruptions in the family - divorce, illness, conflict or death - or bullying. I will deal with bullying in depth in a future column. Briefly, most schools have programs in place for handling bullies. They require the student or parent reporting the problem to the teacher or the administration to begin the process of dealing with the bully. If there is conflict in the home, it requires that the parents are willing to face the problem and present it to their child in a way he or she can understand, with assurances that the parents will make every effort to keep the family problem from disrupting the child’s life. Depending on the magnitude of the problem, it is often helpful to seek family counseling.
More advice to come in next time's part-two blog!