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Elementary School Expert Advice from Barbara Potts

Q: I have an eight-year-old son and a nine-year-old daughter. At the suggestion of their teachers, I have them in a summer program this year. The program is only one and a half-hours a day, for four weeks, but they are both giving me such a hard time about going. It seems like they dislike any kind of "organized settings." They both dislike school, my daughter disliked Brownies, and it's a struggle getting them to church. The only thing my son likes to do is play hockey.

They are both average students, but could do much better. My son's teacher says he is more interested in being entertaining that in learning. Neither of them is self-motivated. They don't seem to care if they get bad grades, get in trouble for not doing homework, etc. This is such a struggle for me. Any suggestions?

A: It's a shame that your children don't like organized group settings, as most people spend most of their lives in some sort of group. Is it possible that your son and daughter react this way because of your reaction to them? Some children learn that this is the way to push their parents' buttons and they get into the habit of disliking everything.

Talk with the principal at their school about their classroom placement for next year. Ask that they be placed with teachers who will help to motivate them and who will be understanding, yet consistent in their expectations. Talk also with the school counselor. She may be able to give your son and daughter some individual time or include them in a small group. You may decide that you want to get additional family counseling outside the school, and the counselor or your pediatrician can refer you to a therapist in your community.

Since your children don't seem to be motivated by bad grades and getting in trouble, try to focus on the positive with them. Set up a system by which they can earn points or check marks for completing homework or making a good grade; when they have earned a certain number of points they get a reward. Keep in mind that rewards don't have to cost money: a walk around the block just with you, a bubble bath, or having a friend over to play can be motivating for most children. In order to be effective, a system like this must be used consistently over a long period of time.

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Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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