Q: According to his physical education teacher, our son has recently started refusing to participate in class. He sits off to the side and pouts. She said he won’t tell her what the problem is. This is a very active child who comes home and plays outside with other kids most of the afternoon. We tried to talk to him about it but like the teacher, got nowhere. What should we do?
A: If your son has no difficulty making friends and enjoys being active, then the first thing to do is play Sherlock Holmes to see if you can discover any clues that might explain this mystery. Start your sleuthing by talking to the PE teacher. Maybe something happened in class recently that might have caused your son embarrassment. If that conversation doesn’t help clear up the mystery, then call other mothers and ask if they’ve heard any comments about PE from their kids. Have their children said anything about your son and his refusal to participate? If there’s a way you can observe the class without your son knowing, I’d consider doing that as well. Hopefully, you’ll discover the problem and be able to do something to help solve it. He may have misinterpreted something that happened in class one day, for example, and doesn’t have the language skills to put it into words.
If you come up empty-handed, however, then the explanation may be that there is no explanation. As also happens with adults, children sometimes get into funky moods for no “good” reason. Like dark clouds passing in front of the sun, these moods hang around for a while then leave as quickly as they showed up. Most people have experienced spontaneous lows like this at times and not been able to make sense of and explain the feeling. You wake up one morning and just don’t feel like going to work, for example, but can’t identify any specific incident that might have caused you to feel that way. Regardless, you get up and go, but you feel “under the weather” for several days.
Occasional, short-lived moods of that sort are normal. After all, life has its ups and downs, and our internal lives have rhythms too. “Blue funks” of that sort become problematic only when they increase in frequency and or duration and begin to interfere with a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day responsibilities. Something along these lines may be what’s going on with your son. If so, that would explain why he is having difficulty putting his feelings into words.
If you reach the conclusion that there’s nothing problematic about PE, then it’s important that your son participate. I think the application of some gentle but irresistible pressure will be enough to persuade him to do so. Tell him that not wanting to participate in PE means he must not be getting enough sleep. In that event, he can’t play outside after school and has to go to bed early every evening until the next PE class. The teacher, meanwhile, should not make a big deal of his pouting. She should simply assign him to chair off to the side of the activity and not pay any attention to him.
I have a feeling that this is just one of those stumbling blocks that occasionally crop up in the course of raising a child (or, for the child, are just part of growing up) and that everyone is going to move past it fairly quickly.