Helping to make life 'calmer, easier and happier' for parents, teachers and children everywhere
New School Refusals The Daily Mail

It's the half way mark in their first term for the Year 7s in secondary school and, as any form tutor will tell you, now is the period when it's most likely some will start to play up about going to school.

SchoolNoel Janis-Norton, a learning and behaviour specialist known as the "horse whisperer" of the child world, who has written books, appeared on television and runs The New Learning Centre in London says, "The new Year 7s are at the bottom of the secondary school's pecking order and it's about now that seemingly little things, like teasing or not getting on well with certain teachers, take on real significance to them."

The classic first sign of trouble at school is the child feigning illness. What should parents do if faced with mystery headaches or tummy aches? "Firstly get your child checked over by a doctor," says Janis-Nortin. "If there's no physical cause for the complaints then it's time for a long discussion to get to the root of the problem.

"Children accept that it's their job to go to school so it usually takes a lot of on-going negativity to make a school-refuser. Your child may be having trouble adapting to the more complicated routine of the big school. Things such as sitting still, paying attention, organising homework and time-management may be too much for her.

"The chances are that low-level bullying will be the cause of it. That's name-calling that your child figures, probably quite rightly, won't be taken seriously by a class teacher."

Janis-Norton admits that getting this information from the child is sometimes the most difficult part of the recuperation process and she devotes considerable time in her courses to "reflective listening" skills. "A child," she says, "can't listen to a parent's advice when in the grip of strong emotion, so you have to make her feel understood so that she'll start to calm down.

"If your child won't talk make a guess about what's happened. Did someone call you 'shorty?' If you're wrong she'll probably put you right and open up. If you're right she'll probably deny it and stomp off. But she'll have the feeling you understand and care."

It's important for the parents to be objective – for their own peace
of mind.
It's important for the parents to be objective – for their own peace of mind. Janis-Norton recommends a visit to the school during a normal school day, even sitting in on some lessons and having lunch with pupils – just to check that this is the sort of school where the child should be able to exist quite happily.

Now it's time to set targets and Janis-Norton advocates a no-nonsense approach. "It may help that your child knows you are on the school premises for the first day or so – but that's it," she says. "Help her get back in the school routine as quickly as possible. If you need to increase the number of lessons she attends in stages make it a quick increase – add another lesson every few days. And it's not a case of doing it 'when you're ready dear' because she may never feel ready. You must set realistic targets and stick to them."

This isn't, however, as brutal as it may sound because Janis-Norton teaches parents how to provide practical support. She believes the parent and child should sit down every evening and visualise the following day's lessons. If one lesson is likely to be a flash-point for conflict – perhaps PE, where there's a possibility of taunting – then they must plan how to deal with it in detail.

"You can help your child develop more assertive body language," she says. "It's not enough to tell her, 'Don't show you're upset.' With daily practice you can teach her how to look someone in the eye, hold her head high with her back straight and not look or sound upset when being attacked verbally."

Janis-Norton also acknowledges that the child who is refusing to go to schools needs help from teachers. But herein lies a problem. Even though a secondary school may pride itself on its pastoral care system the very children who would benefit most – the extremely shy and sensitive – are the ones least likely to seek out help. "Parents may need to become staunch advocates for their child's right to be educated in an environment where she can thrive, not just survive," she says.

What does Janis-Norton recommend if the problems persist and the child falls ever further behind? "Move heaven and earth to find a more suitable educational environment.

"To do this you need great determination, patience, a thick skin and the willingness to write endless letters to professionals and officials. But it's worth it to put your child's education back on track."

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