So your child has figured out the secret that all parents try to keep to themselves: adults can't really make him do much of anything. If he doesn't want to clean his room, you can withhold rewards – but you can't physically force him to put away his toys. If he doesn't want to do what his teachers say, he doesn't have to do that either.
But for kids with behavioral and learning issues, school refusal behavior isn't necessarily malicious. These kids may truly struggle to adhere to school rules, and they need extra support that typical kids might not. Parents and teachers should combat school refusal behavior (like willfully disobeying teacher instructions, pretending to be sick in order to stay home, or otherwise refusing to participate in school) by pinpointing the cause and responding with compassion.
Involve the Child
Sometimes parents and teachers assume that they know the cause of a child's school refusal behavior, especially if the child has other behavioral issues. But if you assume that a child who refuses to go to school is doing it because he doesn't like sitting still in class, you might not realize that the problem is actually with a bully on the bus. So ask questions! "What scares you the most about school?" "What do you wish you could change about going to school?" "How can I help make school more comfortable?"
Analyze Behavioral Triggers
If the refusal behaviors happen in the classroom, as opposed to at home, enlist the child's teacher in figuring out the root cause. Schedule a meeting and ask the teacher to describe what's happening and when. If she's not sure, you might ask her to keep a simple log and make note of when the behavior happens. If the child always acts out during the transition from reading to math, for example, he might be anxious about his math struggles or be unable to sit still for such a long period.
Identifying the triggers should help you come up with workarounds – for example, the teacher will let the child move around for a few minutes between the subjects, or you'll start using math games at home to help him feel more confident about the work. It might also be that he needs more support services from the district.
Practice Stress Relief
School is stressful, especially for kids with behavioral and learning issues! That stress can absolutely drive school refusal behavior. Help your child cope by teaching him several coping strategies for stress. Practice deep breathing, simple meditation and positive self-talk so that he can use these tools whenever he feels overwhelmed in the classroom.
To learn more about why our whole-child approach is the most effective way to help your child, contact us online or find a center near you.