Help for School Refusers Part-II

Help for School Refusers Part-II

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

In a previous article, we identified a number of reasons for which a child may refuse to go to school. To wit: fear of leaving home; an underlying learning disorder; social anxiety or another type of anxiety disorder; bullying and teasing at school; an unsupportive or a rigid teacher, or the negative family dynamics. In this article, we discuss specific measures, which parents and teachers can take to help a child with such a problem.

First of all, parents should determine if their child has an emotional or learning disorder, which may require professional consultation. Examples: a school-age child who can't sleep alone at night in his or bed; a child who says, "I would be better off dead," or a child who has a highly disturbed body image about his or her weight, height, face, etc. Get help to identify the exact nature of your child's problem.

Now, the measures you can take. Maintain the morning routine even when you temporarily allow the child to stay home. Unless your child is sick, he or she should get out of the bed and get ready at the same time as on a school day, do his or her homework and maintain the entire school schedule, but, at home.

Likewise, the bedtime also has to be the same as on any school day. Lights should be out at the usual bedtime. There should be no TV watching or computer games. If there is a TV or computer in the child's bedroom, be sure that your child doesn't turn it on past bedtime.

If you suspect that your child makes a genuine effort to finish the homework and or do it right, but has trouble doing so because of dyslexia or some other learning disability, ask the school to do a psychological evaluation. Many children can do far better if the problem is identified by first or second grade rather than third or fourth grade. Many problems can be averted by earlier identification.

If you suspect that your child has trouble making friends, often gets left out or is excluded by other children, you may go over basic social skills such as how to initiate a conversation, request to join in a game or handle questions. Cathy Cohen's book Raise Your Child's Social I.Q. has excellent tips for parents.

Does your child become anxious the moment you mention something about school? Ask questions and be a sympathetic listener. Perhaps, your child draws negative and discouraging pictures about the class, the school hallway or principal's office. Such pictures are bound to make the child more anxious for the school next morning. Suggest to your child to visualize himself or herself at his best, talking and laughing with peers or raising hand and answering teacher's questions.

Inform the teacher and the principal about your child's problem and seek their cooperation. You may also need school's cooperation to inform you of the progress your child makes in school-tolerance.

Here is a progressive, step-wise "curriculum" for a child who is too anxious to tolerate the school for any length of time:

1. Drive your child to school in the morning and pick up the homework. Enforce the rules stated in number two and three until the child starts attending the school regularly.

2. The child follows the entire school schedule at home, including the classroom study, lunch, breaks, etc. No games, TV, toys, computer or interaction with parents or siblings. In other words, follow the same program at home as if the child is in school.

3. Use sticks and carrots. Offer praise for increase in the time at school and gradually allow more time for play and socialization as the regular school schedule is restored.

4. As a next step, not only the child picks up the homework but also talks with a school official or peers.

5. Child studies at school for an hour or two at school, in another area other than the classroom, such as in the library, principal's office or any other non-class area.

6. Child starts attending one or two classes and spends the rest of the school hours studying and completing other study assignments in a non-class area such as in the library.

7. Perhaps, the school can help by organizing "peer tutoring." The school officials may designate a peer or peers who could act as tutors at school.

8. For a child who is shy and socially at unease, the teacher might initiate a "buddy system" by designating a peer or peers who would accompany your child into the hallway, cafeteria, gym or any other area where informal-social exchange takes place among children.

9. Perhaps, a teacher may request other children to cooperate and not ask such unsettling questions as, "Why do you spend so much time in the library?' or "When would you start the full day at school?"

10. Teach your child some coping skills regarding how to deal with the questions by the nosy children.

11. A temporary "no grading" system may be helpful for a child who has fear of failure. This may also include suspending any negative comments about the "messiness" or poor handwriting.

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Copyright 2002, Mind Publications 


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