by Amanda Holly, Ph.D. & Seoka Salstrom, Ph.D.
1. Find a support person at school: Find a contact person to support you and your child/teen. Facilitate a relationship between this support person and your child. The more connected the child is to the school, the easier the transition. Typically, this person is the social worker or case worker, but can be anyone willing to be available before and during school to help with the transition.
2. Collaborate with support person: Provide this person with the basics in helping your child overcome school refusal.
- Kids refuse school for a variety of reasons. Most common include separation anxiety, perfectionism, panic disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and social anxiety.
- Working up a ladder each week is okay. Start a new challenge on a Wednesday since Monday’s tend to be the toughest days.
- Tears are okay. Allow the child a pass to leave class “a certain number of times’ during the day. The support person should talk with the child in the hallway and escort them back into the classroom within minutes. Breaks are just to collect themselves. Avoid bringing them into an office.
3. Everyone is an expert: Allow the child the opportunity to get involved in planning entry to school, the ladder, and rewards. Empower them them to get involved in their treatment.
4. Offer but limit the choices: Offer the child choices in terms of challenges. Never offer them a choice to earn a morning off. Create the choices in advance as children will often want to negotiate terms that may not be reasonable.
5. You’re the score-keeper, not the referee. Set up the plan and write it down. The score-keeper does not argue or negotiate. The parent’s job is to inspire and reinforce the plan.
6. Set up short-term and long-term rewards: Make sure the rewards are meaningful and powerful.
7. Practice going to school on the weekends: Maintain sleep schedules and routines over the weekend. Visit the school on Sunday mornings to practice the plan and provide reward.
8. Don’t be afraid to skip breakfast. Parents need to pick their battles on school mornings. As long as their child is dressed, they’re good to go. Put breakfast and toothbrush in the their bags if they changed their mind.
9. Skip the phone call at school: Just like summer camp, phone calls tend to increase sadness and poor coping. Notes from home are okay, but phone calls tend to aggravate the anxiety.
10. Make home no different than school: no playing with friends, no snacks, no TV, no computer; no Mom or Dad time. Home should not be reinforcing in any way.
11. Give the child a responsibility at school: Make the child responsible for raising the flag or helping a special needs child to increase their motivation.
Amanda Holly, Ph.D. and Seoka Salstrom, Ph.D. are Clinical Psychologists at the Chicago Cognitive Behavioral Treatment Center.
Chicago Cognitive Behavioral Treatment Center.
9855 Woods Drive, Suite G105
Skokie, IL 60077Ph: 847-966-9524; Fax: 847-966-9536