Step 2: Identify and choose one thing your child is struggling with that is keeping him from going to school
As I discussed in the last post, there is almost always more than one thing keeping your child from going to school, and most likely, there are many things. Before we can solve the large problem (child not going to school) we need to identify and solve most of the small ones (things like I'm too tired to wake up, or I have social anxiety, or I'm totally lost in my math class).
Don't assume you know what the problems are. You may be right about some, but there are others you likely aren't.
You can, however, probably tell where the child first gets stuck in the process -- does he never wake up? Wake up but not get out of bed? Get out of bed but doesn't get dressed? Gets dressed but doesn't leave the house? Once we identify the first point where the child gets stuck, then we have to ask him what's going on. Here's the method I find works best.
A) Catch the child in a good mood when he's willing to talk
My go-to here is a Sonic date. We're in the car where there's not a lot to do other than talk, he has an ice cream in his hands, so the phone gets put down, and everyone is in a pretty good mood because: ice cream.
B) Ask what's going on
Straight from Ross Greene, ask "Hey, I notice that you've been having trouble ... (waking up, or getting out of bed, or getting your clothes on, etc.). What's up?
C) Listen carefully, dig where needed
Your child may just tell you the problem, or you may have to dig. You may have to guess and ask if you're right -- asking for a thumbs up or a thumbs down tends to work really well for kids who are reluctant to talk.
D) Stay positive, acknowledge the difficulty, and manage your own emotions
It can be very tempting to minimize a child's concern or to think we have an easy answer. Don't do that. Validate. Show him that you hear them and you understand. Tell him you are there for him and want to help. Use this time to connect with your child.
E) Choose one concern to start with (one that seems easier to solve) and problem solve together in a way that satisfies both your and your child's concerns
Once again, straight from Ross Greene, you would say something like, "I wonder if there's a way that you could wake up in the morning without having to hear the alarm that hurts your ears." And then brainstorm together. Let the child offer solutions first before you do. Don't dismiss them immediately as unworkable. It's ok to offer some of your own as well. Agree on one solution to try out.
F) Remind your child that you're on the same team
After these discussions, I like to tell my child that he can come to me with any problem -- that I'm always here to listen to him and to help him. I always end with, "It might take a few tries, but together, I know we can solve any problem."
G) Write down the solutions you didn't choose
If the one you picked doesn't end up working out, it will be nice to have your brainstormed list to go back to and reference.
H) Try out the agreed-upon solution
Even if it's not your perfect solution, do the best you can to make it work. Tweak things as necessary with your child's input. If that solution ends up not solving the problem, go back to your brainstorm and try another one. It could take many tweaks and tries. The process may be slow, but having patience and a willingness to let it take as long as it takes will ironically speed up the process.
Next week we'll cover more steps to tackling school refusal.