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Why do some children have an aversion to studying?

31 January 2011

The greatest power struggle in our home is over school assignments. Our 11-year-old son simply will not do them! When we try to force him to study, he sits and stares, doodles, gets up for water and just kills time. Furthermore, we never know for sure what he's supposed to be doing. Why is he like that?

Let me offer a short discourse on school achievement, based on years of interaction with parents. I served as a teacher, a school counsellor, and a school psychologist. As such, I became very well acquainted with children's learning patterns.

The kind of self-discipline necessary to succeed in school appears to be distributed on a continuum from one extreme to the other. Students at the positive end of the scale (I'll call them Type I) are by nature rather organised individuals who care about details. They take the educational process very seriously and assume full responsibility for assignments given. They also worry about grades, or at least they recognise their importance. To do poorly on a test would depress them for several days. They also like the challenge offered in the classroom. Parents of these children do not have to monitor their progress to keep them working. It is their way of life - and it is consistent with their temperaments.

At the other end of the continuum are the boys and girls who do not fit in well with the structure of the classroom (Type II). If their Type I siblings emerge from school cum laude, these kids graduate “thank you, laude!” They are sloppy, disorganised, and flighty. They have a natural aversion to work and love to play. They can't wait for success, and they hurry on without it. Like bacteria that gradually become immune to antibiotics, the classic underachievers become impervious to adult pressure. They withstand a storm of parental protest every few weeks and then, when no one is looking, they slip back into apathy. They don't even hear the assignments being given in school and seem not to be embarrassed when they fail to complete them. And, you can be sure, they drive their parents to distraction.

Some of these kids have what has become known as attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Those are youngsters who have an unidentified neurological condition that makes them easily distractible, flighty, disorganised, and for some, unable to sit still and concentrate. Trying to make ADD or ADHD children function like other kids without treating them medically is a physical impossibility.

I don't know what is inhibiting your son's school performance, but you should have him seen by a school psychologist or learning specialist. They can diagnose his problem and help you establish a strategy to get the most out of what he has.

This article was written by Focus on the Family Malaysia ( and the Questions and Answers are extracted from “Complete Family and Marriage Home Reference Guide” by Dr James Dobson with permission.

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