10 School Refusal Intervention Tactics That Work
Helping your child manage symptoms of school refusal can feel like you’re navigating an impossible mountain range. There are steep passes, confusing turns, and unknown territories.
Even though it’s difficult, many parents just like you have successfully helped their own children manage this difficult situation, and they’ve made it out of the wilderness.
10 School Refusal Intervention Tactics
When your child exhibits symptoms, you can help with some simple but effective school refusal interventions that will reduce anxiety and ease feelings of overwhelmedness.
1. Keep Calm
Watching your school-refusing child become increasingly anxious or even fitful can be very frustrating. But, make the conscious choice to remain calm.
Your child is inclined to follow your lead; if your frustration gets the better of you, then it’s more likely that their anxiety and panic will increase. However, the more you stay calm and talk about how good it feels to be calm, the more likely your child will follow suit.
2. Tag-Team with Your Spouse
You are human, and there will be times when you can’t control your frustration.
Learn to recognize when your emotions are taking over, and ask your spouse, or teammate, to step in calmly. Make sure both parents are on the same page about how to handle your child’s school refusal symptoms, so that they are getting a consistent message from both of you.
3. Close the Loopholes
Don’t indicate that you’re willing to let your children stay home.
Speak calmly but firmly, making it clear that your child is going to school.
For example, instead of saying “if you go to school today,” say, “when you go to school today”.
Avoid asking your child how he or she feels in the morning, which can open the door for complaints. Instead, begin the day by positively stating what a great day it will be at school. This will model a good attitude and set the tone for the day.
4. Take Baby Steps
For some school-refusing children, going to school feels like an enormous, daunting task, and it’s extremely difficult for them to process.
Help them break it down into manageable steps.
First, eat breakfast. Then, get dressed. Next, brush teeth and hair…
With the help of a trusted teacher, give them the same break-down to complete during the school day. Create a helpful checklist to mark as your child completes each task. Throughout the day, he or she will feel calmer managing their tasks. At the end of the day, your child can feel proud looking at all the boxes they checked off.
5. Start the Night Before
Help your child experience a smoother morning by preparing for school the night before.
For example, your child can lay out clothes for the next day, make lunch and pack their backpack. This will remove decisions and tasks from the morning routine and eliminate several stressors, making it easier to get a child with school refusal symptoms out the door.
6. Phone a Friend
Often, children with school refusal are anxious about attending school because of a certain group of students.
Enlist some reinforcements by arranging for your child and a good friend to ride the bus together or walk to school together. If your child can rely on the comfort of a trusted friend, then they may gradually grow in their own confidence.
7. Stay Organized
Adding order to your child’s day will help manage symptoms of school refusal.
Implement a strict routine and develop effective organizational systems. Create a schedule for each day and each week, and hang this someplace visible. Make sure it includes time for a full night’s rest, and insist that your whole family sticks to it.
Also, help your child develop a good system for keeping papers and notes organized. This will reduce stress, anxiety, and panic that can contribute to school refusal.
8. Enforce Time Limits
Some children can get very bogged down in their fears and anxieties, which can cause parents great worry, too. While it’s important to listen to and validate their feelings, engaging them in nearly endless discussions doesn’t help.
Explain that you will talk about the issue only for a certain amount of time. After that, you both will move on with the day. This will set an expectation that, while your child’s concerns are valid, dwelling on them indefinitely is counterproductive.
9. Create a Family Contract
Talk with your child about the realistic expectations of other kids their age.
Also, discuss what realistic privileges children their age should have. Decide what is realistic, write it down, and agree that if your child does what is expected each day, then they will earn the privileges.
For example, the contract might include such expectations as, “Get dressed by 6:45” and “Be at the bus stop by 7:05.” Privileges might include, “30 minutes of video games” or “weekend trip to the mall”.
On especially challenging mornings, remind your child of the contract and of the privileges that might be lost.
10. Give Praise
The effectiveness of any school refusal intervention strategy takes time.
There will be bumps and hiccups along the way, but there will also be successes, both large and small.
Make sure to praise these successes, no matter how small. A little bit of praise can go a long way in boosting a struggling child’s confidence and will to keep trying.
Implementing School Refusal Interventions and Strategies
While these school refusal interventions can help at home, it’s also important to recognize the seriousness of a child’s behavior and seek advice from the school and a mental health professional.
Teachers and school administrators can offer insight that you don’t have at home, and they often have some training in managing school refusal behaviors. A mental health professional can evaluate the situation using a School Refusal Assessment Scale and determine if your child has an anxiety disorder that needs to be treated. If you think your child’s behavior is severe, a school refusal treatment program might be necessary.
Working together, parents, teachers, and mental health professionals can create a team of support that helps your child implement school refusal interventions and overcome school refusal, moving forward in a healthy way.
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