I used to think that if a kid didn’t listen to me right away, the only reason was that they were simply being stubborn and I was going to teach them a thing or two… fast!
But that was in the past. Today, I recognize that kids might have intense anxiety that stops them. Or they might be lacking skills and don’t know how to go about doing a task. Perhaps they suffered a loss and they’re really afraid to take a risk again. I’ve learned to carefully assess what might mask as stubbornness and address that first before ensuring compliance.
So what if you tell your student or child to call a friend, invite a kid to his home, answer the phone, or approach a group to join a game, and he refuses because of his social anxiety? Do you give up on these goals? No! It’s not a reason to let him off the hook! There is therapy and strategies to help a child ease into these skills.
For example, the Brave Ladder below consists of a hierarchy of social tasks that might be hard for a child, but which the child will practice anyway. Perhaps he might choose to start with #3 (asking to sit next to someone on the bus) or #5 (sitting with kids at lunch) before trying the harder ones higher on the ladder.
Question: When to call a licensed therapist or psychologist?
- When a child seems to have some form of anxiety, say social anxiety, separation anxiety, etc. and the standard educational strategies you’ve tried are still not working.
- When a child feels unlovable because of real abuse that has happened in the past or is still ongoing. A therapist can help the child process and understand how that experience is impacting him in the present so that he can choose how he wants to live the rest of his life.
- When a child has suffered real loss and needs help to make sense of it. We don’t want the child to live the rest of their lives in the shadow of an unresolved trauma that was never addressed. And telling kids to “just move on!” doesn’t work! In fact, it is very harmful especially because it invalidates their pain and hurt!!