children who refuse to go to schoolIn January 2018 I had the honor of hosting Rose LaPiere, LPC, ACS, RPT-S for a webinar in which she helped we fellow play therapists learn about supporting children who refuse to go to school. Fortunately that webinar was recorded and has an accompanying supplemental resource reading and handout for you to experience for 2 hours of non-contact play therapy training and 2 NBCC credits. For more info you can go check it out here. 

In this article I want to share some of what I learned from Rose’s training and I will provide some resources you can access to assist your play therapy clients who are facing this very common challenge.

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Children who refuse to go to school are showing us they need our help.

School refusal is not a disorder or diagnosis; rather school refusal is a behavior, a symptom that indicates there is something substantial going on for the child internally and perhaps in her environment. It is often rooted in the presence of an anxiety disorder. As often is the case in our work as play therapists, we are helping children and families resolve the underlying issues of a behavior as well as address the symptomatic behavior itself.

Children who refuse to go to school are experiencing a disruption of their functioning most often as a result of underlying anxiety, PTSD or other diagnosable disorders. Treating school refusal and its underlying issues is a multi-faceted process which must involve a systemic approach when developing the treatment plan. Parents, care-givers and teachers all must be involved in the process of helping the child.

There are many approaches to helping children who refuse to go to school. I want to provide a collection of resources here in addition to the really great two hour webinar presentation with Rose LaPiere, LPC, ACS, RPT-S mentioned previously taking into consideration that each client we work with deserves to have his/her presenting issues and context thoroughly assessed before deciding which play therapy approach will be the best fit.

In this video below Jody Kashden, PhD provides a 5 minute overview of what exactly is going on when children refuse to go to school as a psychoeducation resource for parents.

Resources to Bring into your Play Therapy

In Rose’s webinar, she cites the work of Christopher Kearney who wrote a book called When Children Refuse School: A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Approach Therapist Guide (Treatments That Work) that is full of effective CBT methods that have been backed by empirical research to be effective. This book is specifically written for clinicians and there are lots of creative ways to bring CBT into the play room using play-based and play-infused methods.

Getting Children to Say Yes to School: A Guide for Parents also by author Christopher Kearney is created to help parents address their child’s school refusal behavior when these behaviors first begin. This book teaches different techniques parents can use to including relaxation, changing a child’s negative thoughts about school, creating clear and predictable morning routines, and utilizing a positive reinforcement system. It’s easy or otherwise overwhelmed parents to read to help children who refuse to go to school see and experience school in a more positive way.

I‘m No Scaredy Cat…But I’m Afraid to Go to School by Angela Cleveland is a bibliotherapy resource for play therapists to use to help children who refuse to go to school feel not so alone. Relating to the character in the book along with related play-based activities can assist a child in processing the underlying anxiety he may be feeling.

S.T.A.R. breathing presented in the video below is a method of teaching children how to relax, how to breathe in a way that will help regulate their breathing and therefore their anxiety. S.T.A.R stands for Smile (which helps the face to relax), Take in a deep breath, And Relax.

If you’d like to learn more about school refusal and how to use play therapy to help children who refuse to go to school please hop over to read more about this 2 hours webinar led by Rose LaPiere, LPC, ACS, RPT-S.