Overcoming School Refusal
Unless you’re very lucky you will have experienced that ‘Sunday night feeling’ at some time in your life. That feeling when you know the fun of the weekend is over and you need to go to school or work tomorrow. Most of us wake up on Monday morning knowing that although we can think of a million things we’d rather be doing, going to school or work is inevitable so we’re able to (albeit reluctantly) get up, get ready and get on. For some however, Monday morning brings about even worse feelings and the closer they get to the school gates the more terrified they feel.
Does this happen to your child?
Have they become so distraught they’re refusing to go to school?
School refusal can happen for a number of reasons, perhaps they don’t want to leave you, maybe they’re finding it difficult adjusting to a new class or teacher, or maybe they’re having a difficult time with other children in the class. Whatever the reason, it can be tough convincing our children to make it though the school gate.
Here are 3 tips that can make the task easier.
Break it down
Not the school gate (we don’t want you damaging school property) but the problem. Here’s the thing, when we have a problem or challenge we tend to focus on it and the feelings that accompany the problem. And when we focus our attention on the problem and the feelings we create stories in our mind that allow them to grow. We can make the single problem seem bigger than it is and we extend the reach of the problem by bringing similar issues into the problem area too. A little while ago I saw a young girl at my NLP practice. One of her concerns was her SATS exams. She was refusing to go to school because she was nervous about taking her SATS. Putting NLP exam techniques to one side (we’ll cover those in another blog), we had a look at her concern. We looked at breaking down the SATS problem into smaller chunks. When we did this, it turned out that maths was the real problem. So, we looked at maths. When we broke maths down into smaller chunks it turned out that division was the real problem. So we went from refusal to go to school because of SATS to a plan on how to get better at division in one session. Simply taking time out to investigate the problem and break it into smaller pieces is often enough to make the challenge more manageable and gives us the opportunity to define a simple goal or action to deal with it.
Have you ever noticed how generally when you need to remember a picture of something you look up, as if scanning your brain for the correct image? That’s because when we look up we access our visual field, it helps us to remember pictures or imagine what something looks like. Conversely when we look down we access our kinesthetic field and we focus on our feelings.
So imagine, you’re child is refusing to go to school. You’ve managed to get them out of the house and you’re ‘encouraging’ them down the street. There’s a high probability they’re doing typical reluctant body language; head hanging and shoulders slumped whilst dragging their feet. This body language supports focussing on their feelings, and as we know when we focus on something we give it energy, so the unhelpful feeling will be increasing and size and intensity the closer they get to school. How can you counteract this?
Get them to look up. Take them out of their feelings and tap into their visual sense. Encourage them to make pictures out of clouds, look at the vapour trails in the skye or point out the pigeon on Mrs Smiths rooftop. The more focus your child puts on their surroundings the less opportunity they have to access and increase the unhelpful feelings.
Ride the wave
In NLP therapy we use a technique called anchoring. It’s a great technique as it helps us to change unhelpful feelings into more helpful ones with a singe action. An anchor in it’s simplest form is using the feeling or memory of a positive experience and bringing it back to our attention at will. In his studies in the 1950’s Dr Wilder Penfield identified the ability of humans to store and access previous memories and the feelings associated with them. He was able to prove that with the correct stimulation we can access both the memory and the feeling at the same time. This is a powerful combination. You know yourself when a song from your childhood stimulates a fantastic happy memory you’re automatically reacquainted with the positive feelings you associate with the memory. Often, even if only for a split second you may find yourself right back in your shoes, seeing, hearing and feeling the whole experience around you. Anchoring is a way to harnessing that experience and use it when you need a positive emotional boost.
One way I teach children to do this is to imagine a bubble around them filled with one or two really positive, happy, confident memories and feelings. When they arrive at the school gate they can (super hero style) shoot this positivity out of the bubble and ride the wave into school… silver surfer style. This will take a little setting up and practice at home and will give you the opportunity to practice your coaching – the result really is worth it.
These 3 tips can be used in isolation or together to create a super confident school run. As always empathy goes a long way at times like this. Take the time to listen to their worries and understand them. To you they may seem trivial, to them they could feel like the biggest problem on earth right now. Listen, understand and offer up these activities for support.
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