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All Play and No Work

Elementary School Expert Advice from Barbara Potts

Q: My first-grader doesn't want to do the work with his class -- all he wants to do is play. She keeps him in from recess to finish his work. He says he doesn't want to go to recess anyway, but he won't do his work. He says he wants to go back to kindergarten. I'm trying to get him to understand how important school is. He's been restricted at home from things he likes but nothing's changed. What can I do?

A: Try focusing on the positive with your son. Work out a plan with his teacher by which your son can earn rewards by finishing his work. Start out small, with the possibility of earning a sticker for finishing one task. Once he has mastered that, move to two completed tasks required to earn the reward, then three, and so on. Increase the reward as the amount of work required is increased.

Talk with your son's teacher about working out a system for your own follow-up at home. Ask the teacher to send you a daily note (it could be as simple as a smiley face or a check mark) to let you know how his day went. A good day with a set amount of work completed can earn an extra bedtime story or a walk around the block just with you. Three good days in a week can earn having a friend over to play on the weekend. The key to any plan like this is consistency over a long period of time; rewards must be given every time your son earns them, and this is not a system to try for just a week and give up.

Also, talk also with the school counselor. She may be able to give your son some individual time and talk with him about why he wants to go back to kindergarten. The counselor may also be able to observe in the classroom and give you an objective opinion of what is going on with your son.

More on: Expert Advice

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.


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