The Shut-Down Learner - helping your academically discouraged child

Sending my son off to school has been one of the most frustrating (and exhausting) experiences of my life. Ever since his first day in kindergarten, we've been waging an uphill battle against his hatred for school.

I'm not going to sugar-coat it: my son hates school. As a concerned and involved parent, I have tried everything I can think of to change it around for him.

I can't tell you the number of books I've read and websites I've visited: looking for the way to motivate an unmotivated student. We've held numerous play dates and parties.

We joined an all boys book club. I spend every evening working on homework, spelling, writing, and reading. He's met with the school counselor and worked on improving friendships. I've even made his lessons and spelling words into visually focused games.

I regularly communicate with the teacher to make sure he's not falling through the cracks.

He's a shy kid and could easily fade into the background. In fact, he'd prefer it! So I keep the teacher informed of the positive progress he's been making at home so she can reinforce it at school. She calls me when she sees him recycle his spelling test instead of bringing it home. We're working hard and have made considerable progress.

He's a much better reader now.....but he still hates school. It's a constant source of conflict in our home. Both because of the battling and also because my father was the same way. My parents were high school dropouts. My dad hated school from day one and spent his entire school career wanting to escape.

He's suffered financially and emotionally ever since. I will NOT let that happen to my children. My husband and I are very motivated people and I honestly think that makes it harder to understand my son's lack of motivation.

When I saw the title "The Shut-Down Learner - helping your academically discouraged child," I knew I had to read this book. Within the first few pages, I knew this book was talking to me.

Right away, it outlines the symptoms of a Shut Down Learner:

  • A sense that your child is disconnected, discouraged, unmotivated
  • Fundamental skill weaknesses (reading, writing, spelling) and lowered self esteem
  • Avoidance of homework and school tasks
  • Dislike of reading
  • Hatred of writing
  • Little to no gratification from school
  • Increasing anger toward school

Every single sign fits my son to a tee. Now, you might think it's because he's one of the youngest in his class. Maybe. But I think that's a poor excuse. I think it has more to do with his personality. Or maybe something else. He may be the youngest, but he can read and compute as well as the 8 year olds. He is also very mature and composed for his age.

We could certainly "hold him back," but it would most likely cause more harm than good. He's smart enough to know that repeating a grade is failing. And if he didn't dwell on it, other kids would surely bring it up to him.

He may have the "f**k you attitude" but he is respectful and obedient enough not to act that way towards his teachers. At home...that's a different story.

So I wanted to read this book and figure out how to save my son. Here's what I've learned:

This type of issue (battling over homework, a disinterest and hatred for school, etc) is common and if not caught early can become a serious issue. Like many of the books I have read on raising and motivating boys, it emphasizes the fact that schools just aren't set up for visual/spatial learners.

That's okay - for the most part - but you need to know how to work with your child to make their school days more success rather than failure. There are tips in this book, but also a lot of stories and information to help a parent's understanding of the issue.

The best thing this book does is give you (as the parent, teacher, adult) an idea of what is causing the problem and how the student actually feels.

People are quick to shovel drugs for every single problem (weight loss, learning issues, everything!) but this book isn't like that. Surely, there are some people that require drug therapy. I know my son is not one of them.

Check it out if you have a Shut-Down Learner in your family. They can be boys and girls. It's never too late to change the course of someone's life.

I'm glad to have found this information early on and will be working with my son diligently to make sure he doesn't completely "shut-down."

From our own experience, I'd like to share with any parents out there what has and what hasn't worked for us.

What hasn't worked:

  • Yelling
  • Rewards
  • Blaming each other
  • Bribes
  • Suggesting that he's lazy or just needs to be motivated
  • Punishments
  • Letting him take control over his own education

What has worked:

  • Making reading fun. We gave him a light to read in his bed at night. He can only use it to read. So he uses it to read and stay up SUPER late. But it's all good...he's been reading a lot of books!
  • Praise for the areas he is good at (building, making crafts, staying focused, running, listening...even reading!)
  • Practice, Practice, Practice. He has a writing journal and writes books for our cat. Any writing practice is good and when it's not wrought with fighting and frustration, it's so much better.
  • Spending quality (not homework fighting) time together
  • Supervising homework from start to finish - without fighting, but trying to help him keep a focus and work through the reading one bit at a time.
  • Making time for outside activities and things he enjoys or can feel like a success doing. 
All-in-all, it's an uphill battle that is easy to lose. I intend to stick it out (though I often feel like quitting and running away) and help my son to succeed. 

Also, keep in mind that not all students are A-students. Not everyone is going to be a high profile litigator or neurosurgeon. The world needs all sorts of workers. But school doesn't have to be a miserable, constant source of failure. No matter what they do (in school or in life) try to teach them to do it with excellence. And remember to praise their successes, and teach them to brush off the failures. By the way, I'm giving this advice to myself. ;)


JDaniel4's Mom said...

Your son is so blessed to have you in his corner.

Nancy said...

My son is 16 and I've been struggling with this since Kindergarten! It's gotten better. He really does try, but it's just to make Mom and Dad happy. He truly doesn't care! He's a computer wiz and will be in a computer program for 11th & 12th grade.
I'm a new follower on GFC.
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Dan.Eliot said...

Being a single parent is really hard. The parent has to work to let their family survive, but being away from home is a cause for stress. The single parent has to worry about who is going to be there to watch their kids while they are at work? Single parents need consistent reliable friends, people who are willing to put themselves out to be helpful and loving. They need people they can trust who are loyal and also themselves good role models for the kids.

help for single Dads

Anonymous said...

omg - I'm in the exact same place. It's good to know I'm not alone. I'll be checking out this book.

Jessica-MomForHim said...

You could always consider homeschooling! ;-)

Tina Peterson said...

Hi - what a great review of this book. Would you mind if I reposted it on my blog at: I know there are parents who would find it very beneficial.

I was a disinterested learner. I had a very hard time learning to read (couldn't see, bad divorce and feeling like everyone hated me at school - it didn't help that I was in a wealthy christian school where I was unwealthy and my parents were divorced) I hated that school & my grades didn't go up until I went to public school where I was no longer different then the other kids.

Thanks for such a great article.
Tina "The Book Lady"

Carolee Sperry said...

Lol- all my kids were this way....

My kids LOVE to learn, just not in school. I come home and 1/2 the time they are watching Discovery or History channel.

I homeschooled (rather unschooled) my 13 y/o last year. It was the best year of her school career I think. She did as well on her state testing as she did going to school. She was a happy, cheerful child!

She only went back to public school please her father (who really has no contact w/her!)That's another story....

My oldest (age 31) was forced to go to school, so he skipped all the time....and I mean ALL the time. He passed his GED w/ flying colors despite doing NO WORK since like 2nd grade! He is not faring as well as he could in life. I should have taken him out and homeschooled him. If I knew then what I know now.....

My 19 year old son went to a new alternative school (in High school) where where he could do independent study on top of mandatory classes...he graduated with honors last year.

The 13 y/o is in a 1/2 day program where they go to school, do the work and they are drama, no BS....maybe 10-12 kids. She loves it!

And she can learn what she wants in the mornings at home....

Anyway, just a thought......

You should check out The Blogging Buddies...dedicated visitors and comments!

I have a couple of blogs:

Come on home - mom blog

Working at home advice

Have a great week- good luck with the school issue.

Anonymous said...

I feel the exact sme way

Mrs. B said...

Have you thought of homeschooling?

invincibleprobity said...

You might be interested in a slightly different take on boys in school posted at

"Why Are American Men So Dumb?

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Thank you for your comments! I appreciate all your tips, advice, and well wishes!


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