Seven ways to tackle the primary student who refuses to do anything.

There is no easy answer to tackling a refuser, but this primary assistant headteacher shares in the TES some strategies to help you win round even the most stubborn of pupils.

When it comes to dealing with a pupil who refuses regularly, you don’t need me to tell you that there’s no magic bullet. We’ve all been there – and if you haven’t yet, then at some point you probably will be. 

Every refuser is refusing different things for different reasons.

1. Embrace the power of ‘and yet’

It can be effective when dealing with a pupil who is stuck in a negative cycle and refusing to do something because they believe they can’t. You can use the phrase “and yet” as a sentence starter to remind them of a time when they did manage to do the thing they’re now saying they can’t. 

2. Challenge thoughts using questions rather than statements

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), is the idea that our thoughts dictate our feelings, which in turn control our behaviour. The idea is that if we change our thoughts, we can change our feelings and ultimately change our behaviour. 

3. Make reasonable adjustments

This is a fine line. Sometimes making too great an adjustment can backfire. Let’s say, though, that a pupil regularly refuses to come into school in the morning, In this case, having a designated adult ready to meet them or having a routine in place, such as reading first thing, might be all that’s needed to help them move beyond the problem. If you can make a simple adjustment, it might be worth exploring.

4. Distraction

Sometimes taking the focus away from the immediate issue for a short period of time can be more effective in the long term. Try talking to the student about something else. Then, when you return to the issue at hand, they might be in a better frame of mind to face it and to listen to you.

5.  Know their soft spot

This leads on from distraction, but the key here is your relationship with the individual pupil and what you know about them. I have worked with pupils who, even in the midst of full-on “I’m-not-budging-on-this” refusal, will soften up if I ask them about their pet.

6. Limit the options

If you can and it’s appropriate, offer the pupil two options that are both reasonable to you. This can ease the situation because the pupil feels like they are retaining some level of control. 

7. Be prepared for there to be no quick fix

Ultimately, the key to really dealing with regular refusal is to unpick the situation and work out what the trigger is for that child.  Last but not least, don’t take it personally: it’s rarely about you, even if it sometimes feels like it is.

Read more Seven ways to tackle the primary student who refuses to do anything

Have you tried any or these techniques? How successful were they? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or on Twitter ~ Tamsin

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