Small steps can ease defiant child back to school
Q: My son is starting a new school, as we have just had a change in his custody as part of our divorce. He went to school the first day to meet the counselor, take a tour and have questions answered.
When the day came for him to attend school, he refused to go. He is defiant with me when I try to get him up in the morning and sometimes becomes aggressive and rude.
I have tried everything I can think of to get him to go. This was a problem at his previous school also, and I was hoping that this year would be a new start. What do I do?
A: There are different approaches in working through this challenge. As discussed in a previous column, students are affected in various ways when parents are going through a divorce. Let’s assume, however, that there are other reasons (anxiety, lack of new friends, for example) about attending a new school and consider a range of steps that might be taken.
I have often had students make small steps toward the larger goal of attending an entire school day. For example, I might start by having your son just speak with me on the phone about why he doesn’t want to come.
I have sometimes made a home visit if the student refuses to speak with me on the phone. The next step might be for him to come in to just see me. After that conversation, I might have him attend a class or two that he thinks he might enjoy.
We would keep taking these small steps until he could come in and maintain a full day’s schedule. The thinking is it is better to have him come to school, spend part of his day in the counseling office, and part of his day in some classes than to stay home.
As another step, if there is a truancy officer available at school, I as counselor or the school principal might have that person make a trip to the house and speak with the student as well as drive him to school.
If your school doesn’t have a truancy officer or your son refuses to take the first step of communicating with the school counselor, or anyone at school, and this has been a problem in the past, it might be advisable for you as the parent to go to juvenile probation and discuss options with them. Before doing so, you might speak with the school counselor to prepare for this next step.
At juvenile probation, some parents have chosen to file PINS petitions (Persons In Need of Supervision) when their son or daughter is defiant in his or her refusal to attend school.
This process assigns a juvenile probation officer to move the student toward compliance. Once the probation officer is assigned, he or she will outline the consequences of not attending school. More information can be found here: www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/opca/familycourt.htm
In most cases, speaking with a counselor and working with the student in a reasonable, understanding manner works.
Anne-Marie Hughes is a local middle and high school guidance counselor. Send questions to Ask The Counselor to firstname.lastname@example.org.