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My first grader won’t do his schoolwork!
Q: How can I get my first grader to do his schoolwork in a timely manner? In January of 2003 his dad was diagnosed with cancer and underwent treatment for seven months before returning to work, so he was at home with him for that time. Then in July 2003 his grandma died. He’s not a disturbance at school; he just doesn’t do his work and tells the teacher he wants to do it at home with me. I know he can do it, as he scores well on tests. I have gone into the classroom to observe him. I have tried taking things away and grounding him, but nothing works.
A: Staci, have you considered that things have just been too much for your son over this past year to allow him to concentrate and respond appropriately in school? It sounds to me as though he is just a bit overwhelmed. His father was sick (and there must have been some concern about death if the “Big C” word was used in the house) and his grandmother died. He tells his teacher he wants to do his work at home with his mum. My guess is that he is full of anxiety that something might happen to you. It sounds to me as though he might need some counseling to help him through this anxiety.

I would not punish him at home for things that happen at school (like taking toys away or grounding him). Would it be possible for his teacher to take things away—recess maybe—at school for behaviour that occurs there? It sounds as though she is cooperative and trying to help. If he doesn’t do some of his work at school, she might be willing to send special homework home with him. If she does that, apply home discipline to school behaviour. That is, no play or TV until the homework is done.

Finally, play my hunch that some of his behaviour is due to anxiety that something might happen to you. Without making a big deal of it, tell him that you feel great, that you haven’t even had the flu (if you haven’t had it), and that you are thankful to be so healthy. Don’t overdo it, but give him all the reassurance you can.