Dear ADDitude: How Can I Get My Son’s Classmates to Treat Him Better?
“At the mere mention of school, my son has an anxiety attack. He feels his life is not worth living because of how he is treated by his classmates. He is also falling behind in his subjects due to anxiety and inattention.”
Your son probably has good reasons for being anxious about school. If he’s being bullied, talk with him about it. “Tell me what other students are saying or doing to you. It makes me angry that they’re bullying you. I’m so sorry … what they’re doing is very wrong. How can I help you?”
Give him a few tips to handle the bullying: If your child is willing to role-play, practice how to act and speak with a bully. Try not to show any fear of the bully (if possible). This may be hard for your child, but if he can, suggest that he face the bully and calmly say, “Stop it,” then walk away. Otherwise, just walk away. Stay away from bullies. Stay near other people. If it gets worse, suggest that your child talk to his guidance counselor. Additional tips are available at stopbullying.gov.
Another reason for anxiety about school is fear of embarrassment or failure. My son had undiagnosed learning challenges. He was always anxious and, unfortunately, I mistakenly thought he wasn’t trying hard enough. So I’d also suggest that you ask the school to check him for specific learning problems, including executive function deficits.
When a child is anxious, his brain produces cortisol, a chemical that blocks his ability to learn. If his anxiety is extreme, even after school interventions have been successful, discuss the problem with your physician.
Posted by Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, M.S.
Former educator, school psychologist, and mental health professional with 40 years of experience
Kids with ADHD are common targets of bullies, sadly. You are right to get the teacher involved as well, it’s her job to make him feel comfortable at school. It’s also part of the school counselor’s job, so I would get them involved too. As another poster said, if the teacher can’t take control of the situation, keep going up the chain of command.
Posted by Penny
ADDitude community moderator, author on ADHD parenting, mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism
A Reader Answers
If it’s affecting his attendance, then it’s affecting his ability to access school, which affects his right to FAPE – free and appropriate public education. I would go up the chain of command. If he has a 504 you could speak with your school district’s 504 coordinator. If he has an IEP you could try the special ed teacher, or you could try the principal of the school. You are right to be concerned and this has to stop. In my daughter’s elementary school I have become close with the social worker over the years, so in my case I would probably go to her if I wasn’t getting anywhere with the teacher. I hope you find some help soon. Keep us posted.
Posted by Udderlycrazy
A Reader Answers
I raised 6 children with ADHD. These are some things that worked for me:
1. I made sure that my children were taking their medicine. When my children didn’t take their medicine they did things that irritated other children that they were oblivious to. When the other children retaliated my son felt he was being treated poorly for no reason.
2. I talked to my children about the circumstances and we talked about what they could do or say that could change the situation.
3. I gave them time to try the things we talked about and then we talked about how it went and what else they could try.
4. If it was severe, I talked to the appropriate school official. Many things happen in school hallways or school yards where the child’s teacher isn’t there and doesn’t have direct control. I had better luck talking to the dean, or vice principal, than talking to the teacher because these officials seem to be better trained in handling bullying discreetly.
5. One time I had a child who had been bullied for a while, had become diagnosed, medicated and had graduated to the next school level and didn’t see the bully anymore for a while. He blossomed with his new friends and things went well for a year. The next year, he ran into the bully and was humiliated by some very off-the-wall verbal abuse in front of his new friends. He was mortified. I called the mother, explained that her son had bullied my son for quite a long time in their previous school, they had been separated and it hadn’t happened for a year, but that her son had severely bullied my son that day. I told her that it had to stop. If it happened again I would call her again. I would also talk to school authorities and I would go as high as I had to to stop it. She must have laid down the law because the child never bullied my son again.
6. Gym is also a bad time for bullying. Again, I found that going to the school administrator over student discipline worked the best.
7. Kids are always afraid that they will be penalized by other children if their parents go to the authorities. In my experience, the school authorities over discipline were the most discreet and they knew how to apply enough pressure to the bullies by calling them in and talking to them about what they were doing to make them stop without having the bully know that who they were bullying had “tattled” on them.
Posted by ADD family
A Reader Answers
My daughter went through a similar situation; she dreaded going to school every single day. There were many many mornings (in sixth grade) when I had to almost physically lift her into the car just to get her to school – and there were times when she just plain wouldn’t get out of the car. I could tell it was genuine fear because her breathing would become shallower and more frequent, and I could tell her heart was racing. It took a lot of therapy and appropriate medication to get her mind ‘unstuck.’
One important key for us — keeping me calm. My daughter and I got stuck in a loop. As her anxiety increased, so did mine, which made hers get even worse.
Our daughter’s initial elementary school did a poor job of helping her handle her anxiety. Right about this same time, April, we had to switch elementary schools (still within the same district). It was night-and-day different. The school we switched to had an older, more experienced and educated staff who are experienced in handling children that have more significant special education needs. I think that helped a lot – even though our daughter wasn’t in any of the special ed classrooms – there was a difference in the general atmosphere/climate within the building among both the staff and the children. Must more accepting. Much less chaos and zero bullying – she felt safe which meant all the difference in the world. This would be something to watch for if you ever decide to change schools.
From what I’ve read and learned, pediatric anxiety is episodic – it will come and it will go. We’ve had two episodes now. As she matures, I see that she handles her fears better. We continue to go to twice-monthly therapy and stay on the anxiety meds.
Has your doc considered that the ADHD meds may be causing his anxiety? I know it is possible.
Best of luck to you. It is a hard road to travel, but I know you can do it.
Posted by SJF04
A Reader Answers
The IEP team should have an emergency meeting right away to figure out what is going on and to stop whatever is causing your son so much pain. They should also consider a special school for him. You may want to look for schools in your area that specialize in children with ADHD and/or learning disabilities. A special school can change his life for the better. It made a HUGE difference for my sons. They ended up loving their new schools.
Posted by spedexaminer
A Reader Answers
My son had this issue in fifth grade. It was horrible. He went from loving school to not wanting to go. Dealing with the bullying was too much for him. Please intervene if it continues to happen. Our school wanted the boys to “talk it out” between themselves but this wasn’t working. My son spoke to the counselor who again told him that he needs to speak up to the bully. When all else failed, my son indicated he wanted to tell the principal. I was on board with this and told him I would be by his side when he wanted to do so. He took one last resort of asking the kids why they felt it was okay to be mean to him. They said they were just joking around and had no intentions of hurting his feelings. They wanted laughs out of other students. They agreed to stop and they have. My son was so brave and now continues to love school they way he used to.
I have however heard too many stories when the school or the parent does nothing. Bullying happens every day and it can be exhausting for a student. Please help your kiddo out and be their advocate.
Posted by busybeez04