Last post I talked about defining the problem, setting family/whanau expectations about school attendance and began to think about solutions. This month we can look more closely at how to put a plan together to help.
Starting the night before, ensure everything is organised for school uniform is clean and can easily be located, lunch is planned, homework is completed and packed into the school bag along with sports gear or other items needed for the next day. Parents could check the school calendar and highlight something fun that is coming up in the future. It’s important that parents model or demonstrate to their children that they believe school is a great place.
Get the bedtime routine started so that lights out can happen in time for a good night of sleep. In the morning, ensure that everyone is up in time to complete the morning routine so that getting to school on time is easy.
It’s hard to overstate how important it is for young people to get to school on time. The time before formal lessons begin is critically important for children to get themselves settled for the day. They have opportunities for socialising with their peers and with their teachers, they often have time for a quick game outside so they can get rid of any nervous energy that might have built up in the morning. The school day undoubtedly goes better if you arrive at school prior to the bell to enter classrooms for formal learning.
Some strategies that you might want to consider as you develop your plan are:
· Including some exercise in the morning routine. Exercise especially outside is a great way to burn off any nervous energy that has built up and supports us to regulate our emotional state. This could be as simple as taking the dog (if you have one) outside for a short walk or run around in the garden, walking, biking or scootering to school. If you live at some distance from school think about dropping your child a few streets away from school so they can finish the journey on foot.
· Help your child to plan to meet a friend or arrange to be dropped off at a friend’s house to travel to school with someone else.
· Sometimes a change in the routine can be helpful, especially if there is a bit of a pattern developing which starts at some point in the daily routine. A simple example of this could be that if your child starts talking about not wanting to go to school as they sit down to their bowl of cereal you could start the day with them cooking breakfast or lining up the cereal with milk, yoghurt, dried fruit and nuts to sprinkle over allowing them to create their own tailored bowl of cereal.. Another idea in this line could be that if mum usually does the morning routine you could try dad taking over for a few days or try getting a shower in the morning if you usually do that in the evenings. I like to suggest taking a playful approach to doing this so that if something doesn’t work then you can try something else.
· Another very helpful strategy is to ensure that your child has a plan once they arrive at school or for during the challenging times. If they need help with this, you or your child could ask if the class teacher could provide some ideas and support. This could involve knowing that they can go straight to class and help with a job like taking chairs off tables, opening windows, organising sports equipment then meet with a friend for a game either inside or out or going to the library or a quiet spot in the classroom to read. If the tricky time is during an academic subject, they could talk with their teacher about how they might ask for help in a way that suits them. If the tricky times are lunch or morning tea plans can be made to pair a student up with a buddy or to find activities that suit their specific needs.
School refusal is something that is best managed proactively so if your child says they don’t want to go to school, take a few minutes to chat with your child and help them think through how you can make a change to that thinking so that instead they are positive and even enthusiastic about attending school. Please contact your child’s teacher or me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if this is becoming a bigger issue for you and your child than can be solved on your own.
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.