The next crucial step is to sit down and have a conversation with your child. You’ll want to discuss how you can make his transition back to school easier and remind him of the positive aspects. You’ll want to ask her what is worrying her, leaving the question as open-ended as possible. Morin finds that though some kids may be able to answer and some may not, the less you ask it as a leading question, the better answer you’re going to get. While it’s easy to say, “Are you worried that your teacher is going to be mean?” it’s much more effective to ask, “Is there something more specific that’s worrying you that we can talk through?” Continuing to check in with your child will ensure that he is receiving the support he needs until he is ready to ask for it himself.
A support system is one of the most important tools for both children and parents. “As parents, we don’t want to admit that we have weaknesses and we need support, but it’s definitely a team effort to get that kid back in the door to school,” Morin says. Perhaps the first person you should consult, besides your own child, is his pediatrician. It’s extremely important to make sure this anxiety or depression isn’t linked to an actual physical illness before proceeding.
Next, parents will need to discuss setting up an evaluation with the school. If your child has a learning issue or suspected disability that is impacting her education, the school has a legal obligation to do a free evaluation. Once the issue has been properly identified, parents and school staff can work toward providing the child with the support he needs, whether that be an IEP or 504 Plan, an outside counselor, or an informal support team.
It is also important that the parent feel as supported as possible. For this, Morin recommends parents join communities such as Understood.org, where they will have the “opportunity to speak to each other and understand that they’re not alone.” Morin finds this to be a wonderful resource for both the parent and child because “if you know you’re not alone, you can help your child know that he’s not alone as well.”
For the ongoing support of your child, it’s crucial to build a strong teacher-parent relationship. Keeping good contact with the teacher will allow parents to stay aware of progress or roadblocks as well as prepare for what is coming next. These relationships can oftentimes feel uneasy due to a mutual fear of inadequacy. “Nobody wants to feel like they’re doing a bad job at helping the child,” Morin explains. “Understanding that everyone is really trying to do the best they can is a really good way to start that relationship.” While parents and teachers should be respectful of each other, they should not be afraid to share concerns and advice so everyone around the child is on the same page. Instead of growing defensive, Morin says, parents and teachers must realize “the whole job is to raise the child up, that there’s this kid in the middle and we’re circling around him to make sure he’s going to be ok.”
While there are many plans and programs in place to help a child struggling with learning issues or school refusal, parents should remember it’s not a quick or easy fix, but rather a gradual process with little successes along the way. “I think it’s really important to let your child know he’s not lazy, he’s not stupid, he’s not unmotivated, he’s just thinking differently,” Morin says. “He thinks differently and everybody around him needs to learn to help him use the way he thinks to be really successful.”