School refusal generally decreases dramatically as children grow older. Although kids can still feel socially rejected throughout adolescence, the sheer size of most middle and high schools lends itself to kids finding a buddy or two. Also, many academic problems have been worked out by then — either through direct remediation, compensation or inclusion in a special program at school. In addition, the fidgety second grader is usually calmer by middle school. He may still be displaying inattention, but generally this does not lead to behavior-based referrals or classroom embarrassment.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel — the Monday morning chorus of, “I hate school; do I hafta go?” decreases as your child gets older. The trick is to determine what motivates your child’s school refusal behavior and then take the appropriate steps toward remediation. Here are a few that should help:
- Have a heart-to-heart chat with your child. Does he refuse to go to school because he feels socially outcast or academically inferior, or could it be that he’s uncomfortable because he just can’t sit still? Often your child will know and can talk about what is really going on at school.
- Check with the teacher if your child is clueless. Often a savvy teacher has a hunch about what’s really happening with your child. But, if she’s unsure as to the basis of the problems, it may be wise to seek professional help for specific recommendations.
- Contact your school counselor to set up a complete psychoeducational evaluation. This helps to determine your child’s strengths and weaknesses, which in turn makes it easier to start him in a program of remediation. It may be beneficial to set him up in a special class or program that meets his unique needs, or after-school tutoring or remediation just may do the trick.
- Set up a study skills program. If your child is disorganized during school or when he does his homework (but the psychoeducational evaluation shows no deficits), then it’s a matter of teaching him good study skills. Use a daily assignment sheet that the child completes and each teacher signs to validate that the homework and test dates are accurate. The child uses this guide to determine what books and folders need to be taken home each day.
- Make sure that homework is completed in a timely fashion. Quiz your child to make sure he understands what he reads, and review what he doesn’t seem to know. Teach him to pack his organizer and book bag at night, so that he’s ready to go in the morning.
- Let a socially anxious child know that he is not alone. Many children experience a period of feeling alone, invisible or “out of it.” Help to begin or cement new friendships by contacting some classmates’ parents to set up play dates. Your child may only need one, good friend to sit with at lunch or to play with at recess to make her feel on top of the world. She’ll gain confidence and social skills as her relationships progress. At times, it may be necessary for parents to jumpstart friendships and to promote pro-social behavior in their children.
If you have a tween or teen who refuses to go to school, share your concerns with Dr. Lowenstein. Visit www.http://drlowenstein.com/ and click on Ask Dr. Dave. He welcomes your questions and concerns.