a resource for parents
My 13 yr. old son is refusing to go to school. He was fine up before Thanksgiving. He missed school because of a muscle spasm in his neck. The guidance counselor and teachers managed to get him to stay the whole day and he was fine and he was fine one day after Thanksgiving break, then we had to go to a doctor's appt. and the next day he refused to go to school. He is still refusing to go to school. He has talked to the school psycologist 2 times and me, my husband, my son, the guidance counselor and 2 teachers met with her. We thought we had a plan set up but it didn't work. I took him to see a licensed counselor but he doesn't see him again until Jan. 8. The counselor thinks it's to do with me and that my son has given up because he knows mom will be there and will help if needed. Says we need to make him more independent but that still doesn't help get him back to school. My son says none of his friends like him and we know this isn't true and that he hates school and wants to be home schooled. The school psycologist said she doesn't think that's an option right now, that he needs to be around other kids. We're running out of ideas and seriously need help. We're afraid he'll miss too much and they'll send us to jail or take him away from us. Don't know what to do. Please help!!
So sorry to hear how you are feeling. Your story sounds so familiar - after illness - sometimes the school refusal seems to kick in. It's probably a hard time of year too with Thanksgiving and then Christmas not that long after - there are probably some changes in activities or expectations that may occur that your son can't quite explain.
Do you know if there was any bullying going on at school? You say your son hates school - do you know why this might be? How long has he hated school? Did you notice signs before now - such as not inviting friends over or not going on school camps or a few things here and there related to the classroom or social events?
At this stage, make sure you note down every single step you have taken to help your son - you mention quite a few already - but you might need to remind them of this if any pressure is put on you regarding attendance.
You have done the right thing by getting help and support quickly.
It is all very well for them to say your son needs to be more independent - its not that easy, is it!
And your son might well be relying on you for support - but that is because he doesn't know what is happening to him. He can't help how he feels and that is the hardest thing for some to accept.
Take a step backwards and embrace your son where he is now and tell him you will do all you can to make him feel better about things generally (he won't want to hear that you will make school better as he is probably just putting up a brick wall in regard to that at the moment).
Ask the school if they will work with you on a special program where he goes in just for a short time or goes to the library - or some how re engages with the school. Is there someone he can go to at school if he feels overwhelmed? What does he do when he doesn't want to go to school - does he become highly stressed? See if you can get the school to send work home and explain to them that you think anxiety is the issue at this stage.
You will need to get him diagnosed before the school might be more helpful. Perhaps a doctor can help with this?
As you are in the US - I don't know the system that you might need to go through - but there is another person, Terskac on here from the US who might be able to give you some advice when he comes on next.
It is good that you found this site - everyone on here is so supportive and helpful. If you just want to pour out your emotionss- everyone on here fully understands how you feel. And there is also some good advice.
Most of the resources are UK based but some are more general. Where abouts in the US are you?
Hang in there - there is help - forcing your son isn't the answer. Yes your son might need the socialisation (That is waht they were always telling my son) but it is not always practical if they physically feel so ill beforehand.
My son has mostly kept going to school but it has been very hard on both myself and him. My son is also on medication that has taken the edge off and made it possible for him to keep moving forward on most levels but not all.
See what others have to say - meanwhile - jot down detailed notes of everything you have done - keep a file - you might need it one day. Also gather together as much information as you can about school refusal and anxiety and depression in teenagers.
hear from you soon -
You may already be aware of other sites in the US. Just giving a few that might be of assistance to follow up as they might be able to point you in the right direction.
This Child Study Centre below might have some advice for you. They are based in New York but I get the impression they provide advice for finding a doctor etc. They talk about use of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy elsewhere on the website, which has been known to be very successful with anxiety disorders. They have a resource/link list.
Here is their article regarding School Refusal:
Anxiety Disorders Association of America
There is also a centre in Philadelphia - they have some tips for parents with anxious children and teenagers on their website.
Thanks for replying to my message. We live in a little town in Ohio called Beverly. As far as we know there is no bullying going on or at least that is what my son tells us. He seemed to really like school when it first started so we're not sure what happened. We can't get him to tell what is actually going on. But I will definetly start keeping records of what we've done so far and keep talking to the school and his doctor. Thanks for the info I appreciate it.
You are probably a bit far from all the central supports out there but a lot of support is on-lline now as you know - so you might find they can refer you to other places.
If your son does have school refusal anxiety - then it is most likely he just cannot pin point what is bothering him. They often can't - its just an overwhelming feeling they get. Sometimes the thought of going back after having been away brings up all kinds of 'what if' questions and they worry about having been out of the loop. The irony for us of course being that if they'd just go back - they'd be part of that again. But its not that simple - and the anxiety takes over their whole thought process.
Let us know how you go -
I live near you and have been going through the same thing for years. Now I have a second child that won't go to school anymore but that is because of bullying and gossip. Otherwise that child is mentally and socially well. A little bit of social anxiety. I just signed her up for ECOT. I wasn't happy about it but she is young and we can change later. My other child is a bit older. He has struggled with anxiety and depression since 7th grade. After a year of legal battles and a suicide attempt he has been sent to a therapeutic school. He has been there two months now and only missed two days.
I can tell you that almost all of the medical theory on this is wrong. CBT didn't work for my kid. It harmed him by re-traumatizing him. He was threatened with juvenile detention. The police have come to my house. All for nothing but a suicide attempt and three hospitalizations.
You need either a lawyer or someone from NAMI that has worked in your school district to help you develop an IEP. NAMI sometimes has lay experts that have experience with particular districts that know how to work with them.
You must get your doctor to write a written diagnosis and submit it to the school. It must state the child has School anxiety or social anxiety or depression etc. Then you can demand in writing an IEP meeting. From there you can work out a plan for your son to get an education. Only the most ridiculous districts will try to prosecute your child if they have a written diagnosis for a medical condition. (like mine).
He may need another school that is smaller. HE may need a therapeutic school. I strongly suggest you don't try "tough love" or any kind of force. It doesn't work. It may work for a while but it will eventually fail. Don't do it.
Not everyone can handle a crowded, loud, competitive environment like a modern American middle or high school.
I would be happy to speak to you in person but I don't know how to do it and maintain my privacy here.
Hi Tammy, your story is so similar to a lot of us, it creeps up on us without realising there is a problem then bang your whole world is overtaken by your child not going to school.
At least the school seems to be trying to offer you some support but dont be fooled if like ours in the UK they are just interested in their attendence figures, they will suggest taking away the stuff your child enjoys like laptop ipad etc but as Terksac says dont try the 'tough love' which they will suggest over and over again it doesnt work, your child will then feel like they have nothing that you are on the schools side and not theirs and that is when a bigger battle imo starts.
Keep a diary as suggested to keep track on phone calls what hours your son attended what lessons meetings and try to make minutes of how you interpreted the meeting after as they will interpret it completely different.
Have the school suggested a buddy system where they put him with a child or 2/3 who meet him for lunch break go lessons with him so that he has someone, has he recently fell out with a group of mates, girl trouble, do you have any friends whose children go to his school that you are close too that could do a bit of investigating into if anything has gone on, most cases i read about there seems to be something that triggers it or what about a reintergration programme agreed with your son????
This is a great group who offer much support as you can see
We met with the school principal and assistant principal today. They decided that after the new year we'd either try on-line classes or if Travis is up to it half days until he's ready to go back full force. We'd talk before school started up again and see where we were. So far the school is trying to work with us and help.
Travis has Becker Muscular Dystrophy and sensorineural hearing loss on top of the anxiety. It's frustrating because the counselor we saw said to let him stay home, take away his phone, tv, computer, video games, etc. and then ignore him and he would go back to school. I don't see how that's supposed to get him to go back myself.
The school psycologist said something about getting an IEP sat up, he only has a 504 plan right now. Hopefully with all of us trying to help him, we can make him feel better and keep getting his education.
This started after we were at a doctor's appt. for his muscular dystrophy. I don't know if it's because of something someone said, he over heard or what. He was doing fine until then. He says that none of his friends like him but we know that's not true. We can't get him to talk to us to tell us what is really going on. He doesn't even want to leave the house. I will definetly start writing every thing down and keeping track of it all. So far the school has been nice about it, but that doesn't mean it will stay that way. Thanks to everyone for your advice, it helps alot.
Don't take away his phone or anything. It will only serve to isolate him even more. He is not being naughty. He is trying to deal with more stress and anxiety than most therapists will ever see in their lifetimes. 1
Do the half days or on-line schooling for a while. No pressure. It's time to relieve pressure in his life. He must have a heck of a time dealing with his other health issues too. Use only compassion. Never escalate an argument. Never get into a shouting match. You can lead with your calm leadership. Your son is not a slacker. He is suffering.
I'm glad your school is willing to cooperate but let me warn you that if you don't get an IEP now you might regret it when he gets to the high school. My son got a lot of cooperation from middle school and eventually did well there but when he went to the high school they were unprepared and unwilling to accommodate him. After the suicide of a good friend in the third week of high school he went down hill from there and the high school had no interest in helping or accommodating him. If I were wiser he would have had an IEP so he would have been protected by law from the careless an insensitive staff at the high school.
Terskac has some good advice for you there - I can't agree more. Are there no support systems in place for your son with his other disabilities? Does it not extend to mental health as well?
For those of us not in the US - can you explain what an IEP is?
An IEP is an individualized educational program. It's a written plan for a child with a disability that is developed and implemented according to federal and state regulations. They set goals, and list objectives, list any accommodations needed. We have a meeting at the end of the school year for the next school year. The teachers are all supposed to get copies of the IEP so they know what the student needs.