What else can I do to help 11 year old son go to his classes?

"I have an 11 yr old son that will go to school but refuses to enter the classroom. He just started middle school and he has been to his classes only once this year. I have had trouble with this issue since the 3rd grade. In 3rd grade he would just lay on the floor crying,finally in 5th grade we got him to go to class and he did excellent the rest of that year. Then middle school came along and we see improvements, meaning that he does not cry to go to school but he spends all day in the counselor's office and the teachers bring his work and he does it there and recently he has admitted to not doing his work in the counselor's office either and crying the whole day when I drop him off. I have dropped him off 2 days the whole year and my husband has done the rest. He claims that if  I don't drop him off he doesn't cry. I really want him to go to all his classes but I have been unsuccessful. We have talked about giving him punishments or grounding him when he is home, but are we being too hard and is it really something he can't control? He has been diagnosed with ADHD and Separation Anxiety. Please help and I love doing research but have not found something useful.. What else can I do?"

Asked by Rebecca after reading the article, "When Your Child Refuses to Go to School":
In Topics: School and Academics, Learning issues and special needs, Discipline and behavior challenges
> 60 days ago



Hand in Hand
Sep 20, 2009
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What the Expert Says:

Hi Rebecca,

I'm sorry to hear your son is having such a hard time going to school. My daughter was the same way for a long time. Here are some suggestions from our article on "Healing the Hurt of Separation"

Children need to cry fully and feel frightened about a separation that is about to happen, or has already happened. While they cry, they need the love and caring of someone who offers them warmth and safety. At first, it seems like the oddest idea—why on earth would you let a child cry hard for his Mommy or Daddy, when you could distract him or put him to sleep or jiggle him or pat him until he stopped? But over and over again, in thousands of situations, we have seen that children whose feelings are listened to become more confident, feel closer to their parents, and feel closer to the people who listened while they cried.

So here are the steps you can take to help a child actually heal the feelings he has about separation. As you take these steps, he'll develop his ability to explore his world and take advantage of the friendships he is offered. He'll also retain his trust in those closest to him.

Connect well. Children need to feel close to someone before they feel safe enough to release their feelings. So the first step in helping a child with separation is to add more warmth and connection around the time when good-by must be said. A period of parent-child or caregiver-child Special Time that includes warmth, eye contact, and laughter will help strengthen the child's sense of connection. Initiate the separation, then allow a long, tearful good-bye. Offer your warmth and support as the child cries, trembles, and struggles. This process of showing feelings fully with someone who will listen is natural, healthy, and deeply beneficial to the child. The longer the parent stays, the safer it will be for the child to show the feelings of desperation he or she has. The parent can do this listening, or the caregiver, or both. In any case, these are the steps to follow:

Stay close, but not too close. You want the child to feel your support, but also to feel the separation he is afraid of. Offer him eye contact and affection. If he burrows into you and stops crying, move him gently so that he can see you. Your attention will help him feel the grief again.

Listen to his tears and fears until he's finished, if you can. This is the fastest way for children to regain their confidence that all is well. For children who have big anxieties, crying with a safe person for thirty to sixty minutes at first is common. Repeated cries over several days or weeks may be necessary to relieve all of the child's fears.

Show confidence. If you are the parent, tell him, Grandma (or the sitter, or childcare provider) will take good care of you. I'll be back. I’ll always come back to you. If you are the childcare provider, tell him I'll watch over you until your Daddy comes back. When you feel better, we can play.

Allow repeated good-byes. Let the parent linger, saying, “It's time for me to go now.” This allows the child to keep showing you how sad or desperate he feels. His feelings are being shed in the safest possible context—with the parent nearby.

Bring the caregiver close. Say, “You're going to stay with Nana for awhile. Here she is. She'll take good care of you.” The child won't want to look at or touch the caregiver as he cries. The caregiver needs to know that the child isn't rejecting him or her personally. After a good cry, he'll be much more open to having fun with her.

Don't belittle the child or his feelings. His instinct to heal is at work. It's smart of him to build his confidence by unloading his fears. At some other time when your child isn't present, find someone to listen to your feelings. What do you feel when your child is showing deep feelings? What part of your childhood does it remind you of? What were you afraid of as a child? A listener will help you sort out your own feelings about separation, so that your own fears grow smaller, and you can offer your child more reassurance that all is well.

You can read the full article, and others that might be helpful, at the link below.

Keep in mind that your son is built to connect with you--and in the big picture that's a good thing!

Julianne Idleman
Hand in Hand Program Director
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