Reply To: Don’t know what to do anymore

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Penny Williams

This is school avoidance and school refusal. We’ve been living it for 6 years (started in 4th grade). What I learned is that it’s a toxic level of stress for the child at school. It feels so bad at school that they will accept anything to not go. Before we understood it, we’d threaten to take away all screens for a month… and he still didn’t go to school.

Your next step is to determine what is provoking such anxiety at school. And that can change from day to day. Addressing these triggers is the ONLY way to improve avoidance behavior. And I learned that having conversations about what’s troubling him at school were exponentially more helpful if I wrote his concerns down right then and we talked through a plan of action of how I was going to work with the school to resolve the issues.

School avoidance has gotten a ton better for us, finally. But, it’s because we transitioned to a half-day of school in-person/on campus, and a half day of virtual public school at home. Now, when he’s super stressed or anxious at school, he’s able to tell himself he only has to be there a little while longer (he’s only there 3 hours a day) and then he will be able to leave. That has ended the daily emails begging me to pick him up and then hiding in the bathroom when I didn’t. Plus, because I go through his online classes with him to keep him on track and accountable, he has A’s in two difficult classes that he’d probably barely have a C or D in if he took them at school. He currently has straight A’s for the first time in his entire life (10 th grade) — two pretty easy electives at school and Civics and French online. His self-confidence and self-esteem have shot up.

Your son wants to do well. He wants to succeed. He just can’t under current conditions.

Why School Stress Is Devastating for Our Children

Listen to “Teaching Students with ADHD” with Jerome J. Schultz, Ph.D.

(I recommend all of Jerome Schultz’s articles and his book, Nowhere to Hide —only material I could find that really explained school avoidance and helped tremendously.)

ADDitude Community Moderator, Parenting ADHD Trainer & Author, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism