School refusal, helplessness and a light at the end of the tunnel

One of the most common questions I get is from parents is - “how do I deal with a child who is refusing to go to school?”

If it's a 6 year old starting school, or a 12 year old not getting out of the car, or a 16 year old refusing to get out of bed….most parents can attest to the frustration and sadness that comes when your child refuses to go to school.

I have personal experience with this with my own kids, and I can feel it in my bones when another parent is sharing their painful drop off story: “he was biting me, she was punching me, she was laying on the floor sobbing and I just had no idea what to do, he had to be pulled off me, he has missed 3 months of school so far this year.”

I think it taps into our sense of helplessness as a parent….that deep knowing in those desperate moments. Parents have told me, ‘I actually can’t force them to do this. I can be patient and empathetic, and then if that doesn’t work, I can even try bribing, threatening, or shaming…but nothing works.’

It is exhausting to fight the battle of school every morning and often leaves the parents ALSO in tears, and an overwhelming sense of failure, frustration and sadness. I hear you!

That’s why on last night’s Q&A call, we spent the bulk of the call talking about school refusal, what to do, and how to handle it.

I called in some amazing colleagues and friends of mine, Kristi de Young, and Anne Muscatello to discuss it with me. Kristi spent around 15 years working as a school psychologist , and is now in private practice. She says on the call, that about 50% of her job as a school psych was in supporting students who didn’t want to be at school. It is SUCH a common occurrence, and we want you to know you are not alone!

Kristi shares her insight and wisdom when it comes to older kids, and Anne shares her tips for younger kids. Whatever age your child is, when it comes to school drop off, we got you covered in this call with all the brain science of whats actually going on in your child’s brain at drop off, what you can be doing to best support them, and the common mistakes we often make when it comes to drop offs.

I hope this call is helpful to you, and I want you to know that youre not alone in this, if you are battling every morning with a little person or a big person who just.does.not.want.to.go.

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Timecodes

[3:45] - Heidi's own school refusal experience
[5:01] - The question Heidi tackles
[9:55] - Leave quickly, or stay longer?
[11:30] - Changes in your child's brain during dropoff
[13:31] - What's the real goal of a drop-off?
[15:31] - How common is school refusal?
[17:38] - The feelings are real
[20:00] - What psychologists recommend with school refusal for older kids
[24:50] - Common pitfalls to avoid
[28:56] - Your role as a confident supporter
[31:31] - What psychologists recommend with school refusal for younger kids
[37:04] - Preparation is key
[40:47] - What to do when they drag their feet getting out the door
[45:15] - Adjusting expectations
[48:04] - Little ones have no experience of what 'normal' school looks like because of COVID
[50:52] - Playing the role of supporter, not protector