On today’s podcast, host Lori Boll speaks with Katie Fowle and Sharoya Ham, authors of the #1 Bestselling book, Help! My Kid Won’t Go to School: Finding Hope on a Bad Day. Katie shares her experiences with her daughter who experienced school refusal and both Katie and Sharoys explain why school refusal happens, and some steps parents and teachers can take in understanding and supporting their children or students.


Resources From Today’s Show:

Help! My Kid Won’t Go to School: Finding Hope on a Bad Day on Amazon


Katie Fowle M.Ed, is the mother to the hero of this book. She is also a dyslexia specialist and co-founder of Global Village Tutors. Katie empowers her students through academic and social-emotional skill building so students succeed academically and feel confident in school no matter where they live in the world.

Sharoya Ham, M.Ed is an International Parent Coach and founder of Embrace Behavior Change. She has a Master’s in Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis. She’s lived in seven countries and helped families overcome school refusal across five continents.



Transcribed by Kanako Suwa

[Transcribed by Kanako Suwa]

[Intro music plays]

Welcome to the SENIA Happy Hour podcast with your host, Lori Boll. We know you’re busy, so we bring you one hour’s worth of content in under 30 minutes, leaving you time for a true happy hour. 

Lori: Hey, hey listeners. Well, today I had a great conversation with Katie Fowle and Sharoya Ham, who are the authors of the number one best -selling book, “Help! My Kid Won’t Go to School, Finding Hope on a Bad Day”. In our conversation today, Katie shares her experiences with her daughter, who experienced school refusal, and both Katie and Sharoya help explain why school refusal happens and some steps that both parents and teachers can take in understanding and supporting our kiddos or young adults who may be struggling with this school refusal. I learned so much from them today and I learned even more from their book and I just can’t wait for you to hear the conversation. So now on to the show Katie and Sharoya. Welcome to the podcast.

Katie & Sharoya: Thank you. So happy to be here. Yeah. 

Lori: Yeah Well, you just published an excellent book called help my kid won’t go to school Finding hope on a bad day. So first of all, congratulations. 

Katie & Sharoya: Thank you.

Lori: After going through this process myself, I know how difficult it is challenging time -consuming and also just full of love and passion and so Congratulations on that journey. 

Katie & Sharoya: Thanks. Thank you 

Lori: So, before we dig in to your book, can you just tell us a little bit about yourselves? Katie, why don’t you go first? 

Katie: Sure. My name is Katie Fowle and I am co -founder of Global Village Tutors, which provides academic and social emotional services to expat kids who are attending international schools. And one of the reasons why I created that is from my experience being in an international school teacher in five different countries and having a daughter with additional learning needs. So, this conversation today, though, I’m not taking that lens. I’m taking the lens of a mother who, when we repatriated back to the United States, my daughter wouldn’t get out of bed and go to school. And it was really, really, really stressful and hard. And I didn’t know what to do. And so today, when we talk about our book, my perspective will be as a mother who’s experienced this and gone through it and worked with the school and with counselors to get our daughter back in school. 

Lori: Great, thanks. Sharoya, how about you? 

Sharoya: Yeah, so I’m Sharoya Ham. I’m a behavior specialist, and I work as an international parent and family coach through my private parent coaching business, which is called Embrace Behavior Change. And I work with, I have the delight of working with families across five continents, helping them to really respond to their children’s educational, behavioral, emotional challenges. And one of the niches that we have seen really kind of unravel post -COVID is chronic absenteeism. So it was just a pleasure to know Katie professionally but also personally, and recognize that she’s going through this challenge. And we kind of talked and walked through it together and realized it was really, as the research has proven, it’s become a crisis. And so we decided to take this venture on. And as you said, Lori, when you write a book, it taps into a level of passion and love that you never even knew you had for a topic. And so Katie and I share our desire to wanna help parents and families get through this process without hurting each other in their relationships. 

Lori: So important, thank you. And Sharoya, you’ve been a guest on our podcast before, so I’ll make sure I link that other podcast in our show notes, as well as your book title. And we’ll get to that later. But… You mentioned why you wrote the book It’s a it’s a crisis Can you explain a little bit more about that crisis? Like how why is it so much more prevalent now than before? 

Katie: I’ll just I’ll talk first talk about it as a parent’s point of view because I think if you’re listening and You’re going through this or I know a friend that is going through it. I think just having that perspective is really You can have more compassion Um, so I you know had been a international school teacher five different countries kind of specified in social emotional learning And we got back to the united states and all of a sudden like my daughter wasn’t going to school and um It was really embarrassing it was really frustrating and um 

I think that a lot of times you don’t know why it’s happening and you don’t know how to fix it. And it also caused extreme riff in my marriage because my husband wanted to approach it one way and I wanted to approach it another way. And so getting on that same page about how we were going to support our daughter, there was also an undiagnosed learning difference too, because we had moved every two to three years and so she had gotten back to the States and she was just, you know, we can get into that more. So from my perspective as a mother, I think, you know, it’s just really a confusing time. It’s a really frustrating time and I love my daughter and I didn’t know what to do. 

Lori: Thank you for sharing that vulnerability piece with us. That’s hard to do and we appreciate it. So helps us understand more. Sharoya? 

Sharoya: Lori, it’s our whole society. The whole world went through a traumatic event all at the same time. We’re all still trying to find our grounding. How do we get the life that we want back in a level of control? We just felt like we did not have control for the past two to three years. So with that, how is a child to express? Like, I just need time. I need space to make my own decisions. I need time to escape and run away from all the demands that are on me. This is one of the ways. And it’s not defiance. It’s simply like, I’m trying to figure this thing out. And actually the bed feels like a safe place. Gaming all night long feels like a safe place. Trying to escape from all my thoughts and worries. If I go to school, there’s more. 

So, we’re all trying to find our way. And this is just one of the ways that a child has control that you cannot make them walk out that door, but are they intentionally doing it to make you feel less than as a parent to make them you think for you to put you in your place and dominate over you? No, that is not the reason. But why it’s happening over the globe, because it’s not that I’m just working with families in the US, but this is around the globe issue. 

And as we have seen anxiety, depression has increased. So with that increase, what does it do? It lowers our stress tolerance and the things that we were once able to handle, we are no longer. Or remember those kids who are younger and going through, they lost two years of life skills of what it is to handle outside of the home stressor. 

So these things all come to compound and cause this issue. And I was reading New York Times article and they were just saying that the schools are at a loss. They don’t know why this is happening. And that’s why this book is so timely because there’s no resource, real resource that is helping parents in schools navigate this understanding of why it’s happening. It’s very nuanced. So there’s no immediate answer. Really we have to find it through a lot of examination of the children that we serve, not overall, but just the ones that are in our classrooms, are in our homes. We have to really look at them, what is their need and not try to package it up and go, here’s one solution and it will get your child back in school. 

Lori: Oh, yeah. Wow. It really was a traumatic event. And, you know, my kids are grown, so I haven’t experienced that, but I’ve heard it from multiple friends that they’ve experienced similar issues as you’re stating. So, Katie, can I just circle back a little bit to what you said earlier? I’m curious about your thought of that it’s embarrassing. Can you just dive into that a little bit more to help our listeners understand? 

Katie: Yeah, I think I would judge myself. So I’m not a good parent. Like if I were a good parent, my kid would be going to school. I’m doing something wrong, and I distinctly remember looking outside my window, and there’s this woman across the street. I love her. She’s so kind. She has three daughters. And I’d be like, see, Miss Elizabeth. And then I’d compare. I’d be like, Miss Elizabeth can get her daughters to the school, and you can’t get your daughter to school. So I was embarrassed because I was judging myself. If I was a good parent, then my kid would be going to school. Why can’t your kid go to school? So that’s where the embarrassment came from. 

Lori: Got it. Thank you. Can you explain what exactly school refusal might look like? And well, we talked about a few of the reasons for it. But if you could dig into that more, I really appreciate it. 

Katie: I can start with what it looked like in my home, and then Sharoya can add on from her perspective as a parent coach. For my daughter, it came out more in what I perceived as defiant behavior. So at first, not getting out of bed, but then it would also be more anxious behavior. I don’t know what I want to wear. My hair is not looking right. Those were the three main behaviors I would see. She didn’t have the right outfit, she didn’t have the right hairstyle, or she wasn’t getting out of bed. Those were three behaviors I would see. And her reasons for it, it took a while, and we detail that in the book. There was a moment where I was able to connect the dots to understand what was going on with her. 

Um, in the inside and, um, initially I just saw that behavior as, um, you know, kind of defiant, uh, lazy, um, disrespectful, you know, those kind of real negative. I mean, I don’t use that in the book at all. Shoria always helped me, um, make sure that when my daughter reads this book that she feels honored because she is the hero of this book because who she is today and what she went through, uh, kind of brings, it’s just incredible. And she inspires me every day. So, yeah. 

Sharoya: Do you just love, uh, Katie’s vulnerability? 

Lori: Yeah. 

Sharoya: What it takes for parents to, I think. move to overcome in this situation. Because if you’re just doing it step by step, trying to find a solution, you’re gonna get worn out. But when you hear that someone else had this struggle, they actually had these thoughts of just wringing their child’s neck, you go, oh God, she gets it. And so I’m so happy that Katie decided to really share this story. Well, what I’ve noticed is that, and I mentioned this in the book, that I too had a level of school refusal. And it particularly showed on the days where I had a project, I had some report due. and the amount of anxiety I felt actually made me feel sick. So I really wasn’t even pretending some days, I actually felt sick. So it will look like that. It will look like, oh, clingy, I wanna stay with you, mom. I don’t wanna go anywhere. It can also look like that they’re staying home because they wanna watch TV. They wanna, shall I say, not watch TV anymore. Be on their iPad. Be on their computer or whatever. I said, YouTubing or gaming. 

Oh my gosh. It may look like that. But there’s always an underlying issue. It’s not that. And that’s what is so hard about trying to solve it is because what parents, we have the tendency to do is go after what we see and fix that. Yes. Rather than asking what is happening to my child, what are the things I’m not seeing? And that’s really hard because you have to slow down. Lori, one of my favorite lines in the book, if you don’t mind, I wanna read it. Please. Because I think it’s so important for parents to understand that it says, school refusal isn’t your child’s fault. It isn’t your fault either. 

Instead, school refusal is life’s way of saying, slow down, your child needs you. They need you to show up in different ways than they’ve needed you before. And I think no one will understand this until they go through it. That’s the challenge with life is after you go through something that’s difficult, you have this, oh, oh, I see. And so what we’re trying to give parents here is a cheat sheet. Listen, slow down. There’s something precious in this moment that your child is ushering you into if you, and you’ll miss it if you keep trying to solve it or recognizing or thinking that you can solve it quickly. So you have to surrender, like this is not gonna be solved quick. I’m going to take a breath and back up for a minute. Yeah. 

Lori: It kind of reminds me a bit of Dr. Green’s work on having those conversations with your child to try to dig deep into what is really happening and understanding that they’re not being defiant as you said, Katie. And there’s a reason, and what are those reasons? And some of the reasons you mentioned Sharoya were anxiety and in the book I read they might be not interested in what’s going on at school, possibly. Can you name a few others? 

Sharoya: Yeah, I’m glad you brought up the boredom. That’s one issue. We didn’t talk about learning disabilities. That’s also one, right? Just the fact of being in the international community, you feel different for various reasons. You look different. You sound different. And it is uncomfortable to go to school when you feel so different. And so these are one of the things. In terms of boredom, I find that that’s one that parents almost kind of brag about. Like, my kid is so… you know, advanced at their board. My kid is so creative that they’re bored. But that is the moment where you say, you are the one who has the destiny for your boredom and place it in their lap. Like this is where life really happens. In that moment of boredom where you’re going, I got to figure myself out. Why am I feeling detached? What do I need to feel attached? And creativity and self -exploration and self -confidence all comes from that. I remember just as, you know, I’ll just share this a little bit, but this is how simple taking the time. for to analyze your boredom will set you free. Like I, when we moved to Cameroon, I was like out of my mind. I thought I am feeling so disconnected. I’m bored. I don’t know what to do. It took me a few minutes to recognize I wanna talk to people, but I don’t wanna be standing at a social saying how many countries I lived in. And everybody’s telling the city, the capital city of the country they lived in, knowing good and well, other people don’t know what country that is. I was like, I’m sick of it. I’m over it. 

So I took the moment to just pause and I wanted intimate conversations. What did I do? I started inviting people to my home that I did not know, but I found interesting at these socials. And we all come to my house and answer one question. That’s the gift we also can give our kids. Like, okay, just sit in it for a minute. And if there were no limitations, what would you do for yourself at school, at home, in your friendships, and just begin to help them develop that skill of cultivating the opportunities that lie within boredom? 

Lori: Goodness, Sharoya, I could listen to you all day. 

Katie: I know. 

Lori: We need like a four hour podcast where you just give us advice. So one of your chapters for families is called Are You Fanning the Flames and Don’t Know It. I really found this chapter super interesting. What I want to note for our listeners who haven’t yet read the book is there’s no blame being placed on parents in this chapter, none at all. Maybe they’re doing things that are indirectly affecting their child’s refusal to go to school. So what are some things that parents might fail to do or to realize when responding to a child who resists going to school? What are those things that might be fanning the flames? 

Katie: I can share from my perspective. So one of the things that we hadn’t addressed was our daughter’s learning difference because it was affecting… We weren’t sure, and that’s also embarrassing because I was a second grade teacher. I was like, oh, I should know this. But she was really struggling. And I remember this red folder that would come home and the work was just piling up and she was just feeling so overwhelmed by it. So, and I think I was kind of a little bit of a know -it -all. I was like, oh, she’s fine, blah, blah, blah. She just needs a different environment. And so it took me and my husband a while to recognize, no, we need to get an educational evaluation. We need to understand what’s going on with our daughter. And I think in this globally mobile life sometimes where a spouse’s job may be dependent on their child’s educational needs, there’s maybe not a prioritization of supporting the, the child and what they need to get. So that was one way we were fanning the flames. Another way we were fanning the flames was that I would just, I think I didn’t want the blowback for my daughter when she would stay home, so I wouldn’t take the iPad away or I wouldn’t put some expectations in place when she did stay home. So of course she wanted to stay home. She got her iPad all day, she got to have lunch with mommy, like all this kind of stuff. So I think I wasn’t making the home environment the least desirable environment could be. So those were two ways I was definitely fanning the flames. 

Lori: How about another, Sharoya? What other ways can we fan the flames? 

Sharoya: Well, I want to just back up what you said in terms of the educational evaluation and to that point, any parent who reads our book and realizes they need to get an educational evaluation, I want to send them over to a great book called Navigating Special Education Relationships. 

Lori: There we go. 

Sharoya: Because in chapter two, there’s awesome, I love discovering a disability, sniffing socks and an autism diagnosis. There’s one quote in the book that really, I want parents to really listen to this. This is Lori’s book, by the way. It says, assessment diagnosis is only meaningful if we use that information to inform treatment. Labeling for the sake of labeling needs to go by the wayside. Here’s what happens. Parents hear that, like, oh, we want your child to get evaluated. Sometimes schools are not even as direct as they need to be. They’re kind of like, well, we’re noticing something and we think something. There’s value in being direct sometimes with compassion, because what we know is when we delay this, we don’t have a plan for intervention. And so that’s what I love about your book, Laurie. If I could meld the two together, like if if the reason why your child is not wanting to go to school because they’re they’re they’re having difficulties in their education, then I think these books, you should read them in tandem. Because once you recognize the need and I want to propose it this way to to see it differently, it’s as if you spend all this money for this educational evaluation or the school does, either way, whoever pays for it, you get this handbook. I want parents to see it as a handbook, a handbook that tells you how to play the game to get your child to develop, not just the teacher, but you as the parent. And so then you can go to the school and go, wow, this expensive handbook, it’s gonna help both of us support my child. And that’s what it’s about. It’s a baseline and it helps, it’s a roadmap. 

And schools will not allow your child to have access to certain things unless you have this handbook to prove that basically research has proven that if we use this technique, then this problem should be mitigated. And so I think that’s what parents have to understand. And what I think in terms of helping them to make sure this is how it’s used is they can simply say, okay, I have yet to get my son or daughter evaluated or have the assessment done. But when I do or if I do, tell me how it would look different from right now. Okay. And then the question is when you go to the assessor, to the evaluator, you’re just gonna say, how is it that I should parent differently? What are you thinking? 

Lori: Based on all of the information you have and you’ve seen many other families, what do you see that happens? 

Sharoya: after the fact, after the evaluation is given that is helpful to the kid. So that’ll give you some understanding of how this handbook can be useful and should be useful if you don’t see those things happening, that’s when you wave the red flag. But I think there has to be a mind shift for parents to understand, this is not labeling. This is like, access. Access. Google, GPS. How we get your child to develop more effectively with less trauma, less effort on all of our parts. Yeah. So that, I think that is key because most of it will come down to some level of psychological or educational or emotional trigger or set of triggers. 

Lori: Great. Thank you. That’s really helpful and useful. And I promise that I did not bend Sharoya’s arm to mention our book. 

Sharoya: You did not. Not at all. You don’t have to bend. When I find something good, I’m going to share it. 

Lori: So kind. So you recommend that families contact the school and work in partnership I know that’s probably a very difficult thing to do. Again, it entails that level of vulnerability where you’re reaching out to them. But why do you believe this is such an important thing? 

Katie: Yeah, I think that’s the environment that your school or your child goes into. So we have to get that environment right. So that parent voice, not teacher voice. 

Lori: Okay. 

Katie: My child was going into a school environment that was intolerable for her. She felt so much anxiety. She felt so much distrust. And so I needed to work in partnership with the school to get the environment that could be tolerable for her. And so I reached out to, I first reached out to the counselor because I had a relationship with the counselor. I think it’s important. It doesn’t have to be the counselor. I think for me it was just the counselor I had the best relationship with because I had worked with this counselor with my other daughter. And so when. You know, first reaching out to her and then working with the classroom teacher. 

It just ensured that whatever we were doing at home could be supported in school and whatever they were doing in school could be supported at home. And I kind of was a mother bear too, because I made sure that we would have regular zoom calls to just check in like how are things going. And just sharing really honestly about how my day was at home too with the school. So like if Marnie had a hard morning, I might text the teacher that Marnie had a hard morning, but she’s coming or she’s coming late and she’s coming. And then that would support Mania when she entered the building, like the teacher, oh, so glad to see you. And so Mania had a great relationship with her classroom teacher too. So that was wonderful because we had two adults in the building that Mania felt really comfortable with. And I think that’s helpful as a parent to know who in the school does your child feel most connected to and reaching out to that individual I found to be the most helpful. Yeah. 

Katie: Yeah. And you know, Lori, honestly, about your book, it is so much about relationship, the journey, really parents have to understand it is not easy to navigate because you’re feeling that tension, like I need to get my child help immediately. And you in your book are also trying to help teachers understand from a parent’s perspective, all the work that a parent has done and what they may be feeling. So my job as a parent coach is often to help parents understand what teachers are feeling and what they have been through. And it’s so important for parents to understand and value, appreciate what their child’s teacher has already done. Even if they couldn’t successfully make great strides with your child, the fact that they’re keeping you updated on what’s happening, that’s a gift. And so I really try to help parents understand, I’ve been a teacher, I’ve been a mom. Teaching is the hardest job, I say in the world. You’ve got however many kids in your classroom, let’s double it with the parents that you gotta bring into your circle and all the administration is so much. And so I often try to get parents to just sit in that space of realization. Yes, you have your child, your child is very important but you must understand how important it is to go in and say, hey, you have my child for six and a half hours. What are you seeing? What do you think I could possibly do differently than what you have seen works? Because that’s the other thing. Sometimes we as parents feel like we have all the answers and we haven’t yet understood that our children behave differently around other people and their techniques often work better than ours. So we can learn both ways, but relations. 

From each other. I love that, yeah. And that the presuming competence piece I think is essential. You know, it’s so easy to think that our teachers aren’t doing anything. And then to just think about, okay, let’s, like you said, Sharoya, understand what they’ve already done or already tried and just work in that partnership rather than separate. 

Lori: Thanks for that. So many of our listeners are educators, international educators, 

Katie: or yeah, international educators. 

Sharoya: Everyone’s international, right? 

Lori: How can this book help our educators? 

Katie: Well, I think what’s hard as a teacher, I can put my teacher hat on now, is you have a bunch of kids in your classroom, and then if a child is really struggling emotionally, it’s hard to know, hard to have the time to figure out how to support that child. And so, you know, all the relationship work that teachers do to build classroom community, to build relationships with individual kids. I think that that’s the foundation that supporting a child who’s refusing to go to school needs, because it may… It may not be that you haven’t created a classroom community. It may just be that that child needs a little something different or a little extra support during a certain time. And so as teachers, a lot of the principles that we talk to parents about in the book can also be true in the classroom. What do you think, Sharoya? 

Sharoya: For sure. I’m hoping ultimately, and I think this has been our joint desire, is that this book teachers can give as a gift to parents and just say, acknowledge, this hasn’t happened. I don’t know how to solve this, but I know that this book really details some steps. you could possibly consider. So how about you read this, let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about what applies to you, what we should do together with your child based on the steps in this book. So that’s what I would say is this book would serve as a resource and a relief for teachers because parents put that pressure on educators sometimes help me figure it out. Well, you know, it’s hard. And so we’re hoping that this book would help counselors and teachers just say, okay, I got something for you that I think will help you start moving in the right direction. And as you move, let’s keep talking. 

Lori: Keep talking. Yes. Well, I am a former teacher and I read the book and I find it incredibly valuable and useful and I highly recommend it to anyone listening. So thank you for your time today. I’ve learned so much from you just in our conversation, but also through your book and I wish you the best of luck. 

Katie & Sharoya: Thank you. Thank you so much. 

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