School refusal and special needs

School, or education, is necessary. We must prepare our children for the world. Even if our kids will never succeed without assistance, we do them a disservice if we do not teach them anything. Their worlds are brighter with learning. However, many of our kids struggle with traditional learning environments. Even when we adjust their schooling procedures, they still may attempt to avoid schooling.

Kids, whether with special needs or not, are notorious for refusing to do what their parents want. However, this intensifies with our kids. All my kids went through a period of school refusal. Being at home with them always meant I was able to address their struggles quickly. With Rory, I explained the why and discussed her issues. We worked together toward a solution. When she still chose to argue, I let her know we could play after she had done her responsibilities. Her attempts to refuse school lasted a week at best. She very quickly acquiesced to doing as I asked. She's always been logical and compliant when needed. Her maturity helps her in this area.

Will, my lovely second born. He has always been more stubborn than Rory. He has been set in his ways since birth. I could not convince him with logic. He always did what he was going to do when he was going to do it. Not a moment sooner. At 11, he offers to try new foods. At 5, no amount of bribery would entice him. He wasn't going to eat a new food no matters what we did or said. At 6, nothing I attempted was going to convince him to do his school work. I tried every trick in the book. I did what I did with Rory--no play until school is finished. I tried having him help plan what and when he would do different subject. Giving him some control helped sometimes. He still just wanted to choose his activities. I had to out-stubborn him. I feel like a horrible mother for suggesting that we ought to simply out-stubborn our children, but sometimes, that is the only way. I maintained that he would choose which subjects, and even which topics we would do for each subject. But, he was not allowed any leisure activity until his schoolwork was completed.

For a six-year-old, this might seem harsh and overbearing. My goal was not his six-year-old self, though. My goal was his 11-year-old self. And his 20-year-old self. My goals are long-term. I knew that by teaching Will that responsibilities come first, I would help him with his future life. Because of battles I had fought with him earlier in life, I knew that if I held on long enough, helping through his big feelings, we would come out victorious. I say we because Will wins too when he conquers these big feelings and moves past them. Why he refused school in an environment set up for him with his safe space as a teacher helping in his brain's way, I don't know. I do know once he accepted school he began accomplishing it quickly. The bits he continued to struggle with, I accommodated more. He has dysgraphia, so I allowed dictation. I sat with him for math. I talked with him about his reading. We conversed about social studies. Science is no problem. He will do science all day. If it is dinosaurs!

After we established a school routine and eliminated the major refusals, I relaxed a lot on expectations. I am now flexible with each kid and their expectations. When I notice someone is having a difficult day, I give them the day off school. When someone is really doing well with school, we might do more. I cancel school entirely on beautiful days.

Yesterday, I suggested a Mom take some time off school entirely with her son who is struggling deeply. He has negative associations with school in general. They have worsened in the last year. In this special situation, taking several weeks or months off is beneficial. We need to reset and rediscover the joy of learning. Learning shouldn't be a dreaded chore, but an adventure. There will always be aspects we don't love (math for me!), but the whole process shouldn't be abhored. When it is, we need to step back and reassess. Are we doing more damage by continuing to force this learning? Do we need to take time out and readjust all the procedures? Is a different environment a better option?

I am available for coaching sessions to help you determine whether you need this time of reset, and how to do so without losing learning. Don't do it alone. Reach out and let's conquer refusal together!

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