Behaviour Modification: Changing Your Child’s Attitude Towards School

In an earlier post, I wrote about Aristotle’s school troubles being related to sibling rivalry and I was asking around for potential solutions. If you find yourself in a similar solution, here’s something that worked for us that we stumbled on recently…

The following conversation took place one school morning when I was trying to get Aristotle out of bed and having trouble – yet again – because he didn’t want to go to school:

Me: C’mon, you have to get up or you’ll be late for school.
Aristotle: I don’t want to go to school. I hate school.
Me: From now on, I want you to tell yourself when you wake up that you love school, that you’ll have a great day, and you’ll have lots of fun.
Aristotle: But I won’t.
Me: It doesn’t matter. Just say it. Every morning, tell yourself these three things. It doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not. It doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not. Just keep saying it. Eventually, one day, you’ll wake up and discover that it’s true.

Aristotle didn’t look convinced, but he tried it. On the way to school, I spied him looking so miserable in the car…

Me: Why don’t you smile?
Aristotle: Because I’m sad I have to go to school.
Me: I know, but you can still smile. Just tug the corners of your mouth up into a smile. Even if you don’t feel like smiling on the inside, you will find that if you do this, eventually you will be smiling on the inside, too.

I then explained that even if you don’t feel a certain way, if you keep pretending that you do, you will eventually feel it. This was a follow on from some behaviour modification tactics I learned about some time back. I have applied it once before with some success but I didn’t tell him the theory behind it. This time I told him about the story of Salvador Dali who was an introvert as a child and grew up appearing to be an extrovert because he kept pretending that he was one.

I wasn’t expecting results so soon so I was in for a big surprise when I picked Aristotle up from school. When he saw me, he greeted me excitedly. He was bubbling over as he recounted his day to me. From time to time, he would break off to greet a fellow student or a teacher and then continue with the details of his day. It probably helped that it was library day and he loves going to the library. It was also PE day and he seemed to have developed a nice comaraderie with his PE teacher who took an interest in one of his favourite subjects – Rob the Robot.

The next morning, I reminded him again to start the day with his three statements:

  • I love school
  • It’s going to be a great day
  • I’m going to have fun

When I picked it up from school, his response was the same – he was positive and he was happy. The thing about Aristotle is that pretending to be happy is not one of his strong suits, so if he looks happy, he usually feels happy, because even his fake smiles look half-hearted.

On the third day, the morning routine continued. After dropping Aristotle at school, I took Hercules shopping and let him have a romp at the jungle gym. When we picked Aristotle up from school, his mood was still chipper. By the time we arrived home, he started the same laments, “I wish school wasn’t so long because I miss you.” He wasn’t whiny but there was a slight change in mood – it went from sunny to overcast.

And then it hit me – he knew I went out with Hercules. He spied the new red water bottle I’d bought for Hercules to replace the one he cracked. Since Aristotle’s bottle was fine, I only bought one. The bottle was exactly the same as Aristotle’s bottle except in red – they didn’t have any other colours available. Aristotle wanted a red bottle, too, even though green is currently his favourite colour and red was Hercules’. The rivalry was on again but not quite as intensely.

Yesterday was day 4 and things were back to routine so I’m assuming the slip up with the red bottle wasn’t too costly. As long as I am careful not to leave evidence of Hercules potentially having more fun that Aristotle at school, things will be okay.

After looking back at my earlier attepts to alter Aristotle’s attitude, I think we are making progress. We have shifted from having to be sly about it to making Aristotle conscious about changing his own attitude. I spoke to friend who has a child with a similar disposition to Aristotle and after sharing experiences with her, I have come to the realisation that with certain younger children, it can be difficult to sell them the idea that pretending to be happy even when you are sad can help you change how you feel. You can explain the logic behind it until you’re blue in the face and they will still refuse to even attempt to pretend. It will feel like you are talking to a brick wall.

If this is what’s happening with your child, then your child is not ready to change his own attitude. You will be need to be creative with tactics that help your child change his attitude without him realising it. I think it is a little like a young child who understands the word “no” but is unable to comply when you say it. You might have to wait until your child is a little older before he is able to change his own attitude.

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Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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