Separation Anxiety and School Refusal - CHADD's ADHD Pare...

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Separation Anxiety and School Refusal

Dagamundo profile image

I have searched several posts about this issue, none are super current that I saw. My son is currently refusing to go to school - if he does go, I am there to pick him up in a few hours and he has done no work and spent the whole time crying. It seems like a reward to keep him home doing work, because that is what he really wants, but at the same time, he is at a private school and they do not have to keep him or office or "warehouse" him the way public schools do. This is a positive and a negative. We have spoken about how sending him home is a reward, but he also can't stay and disrupt all the other children. Its a tricky situation. There is not a bullying issue. I noticed a lot of posts mention second grade and the child being around 8 years old. That is exactly where we are. We have just set up with a new counselor and are trying to arrange testing and a psychiatric consult/visit. Rewards or taking away do not seem to be a huge motivator when the best reward is just being with Mom. I run my own business, but sometimes, due to scheduling clients, this can be a huge disruption. Maybe I am just impatient with rate of progress. Anyone have any advice?

23 Replies


My reaction to your post might be a little hash. I am a public school teacher/Specialist. I also have a 12 year old with ADHD. The public school system educates ALL children from the severely medical fragile ( feeding tubes, wheelchair bound, no verbal comm.) to the high intelligent student (headed to Harvard). They must provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education ( FAPE) to all children in their district.

Now on to the meat of what you are asking about. I have been there and there is no easy "fix". Research says in order for children with ADHD to do best they need the following: medication, therapy, an educational plan and parents that support and guide them with strong parenting. I am not here to sell public education. But clearly the school he is at is not capable of providing what he needs to help him access his education ( no blame on the private school).

If he were to attend a public school you would have access to school psychologist ( and a behavior specialist if needed), a special teacher to support his learning if behind and a learn environment that he could thrive in ( if this is in a small setting or with more support-an assistant). Most school also have OT's (Occupational Therapist) who might be able to provide strategies or tools to help him. Maybe he could benefit from a weighted blanket on his lap just during academic times?.

I am not here to say the public school system is perfect, because it is not but that is where the services are and an educational environment where he can learn and do well. There are many types of learning environments (schools) in most districts. The one I work with in has 2 Waldorf school, Montessori, afternoon academy ( for struggling student who are almost drop outs) small charters and schools that specialize in different things like math and science...

Where do you start, well it is great that you are starting with a therapist and a psychiatrist. You are ahead of the game and things will slowly come together. The therapist will try to find out what about the current school setting is making it so he doesn't want to attend. Or he may not have a problem but just wants to stay home. Either way.

This is a hard one because like you said he is "winning" by not going to school. Also, you have a life and need to earn money and be an independent person. Some people say well you could home school. Yes, you could but where are all the services and training he needs to learn to be an independent learner and peer interactions and gain many more skills.

This is a personal choice that you guys will make and things will move along. One last comment, this is the harsh part ( but I SURE wish someone had told met this) things most likely will get worse... I know that sounds harsh, but as he grows and hormones kick in and then there is middle school ( most middle schools have 7 teachers to deal with). So the more you are able to get him "settled" the easier things will be. Some of us have been there and boy does your perceptive on things have to change. The reality of having the "perfect" child changes with suspensions, bad grades, lying and bad behavior...

I wish you well and know you will figure it out, even if you have to change things for him/you guys. One more last comments... tomorrow is another day. In the future (5 years from now) when things are going well you will look back and know you survived this.

Best of luck, we are here for you and I know I will not be the only one giving you advice..

Big hugs and please reach out when you need us.

Take care

Thank you for all your information and help. I think from district to district things can be very different. We moved him to private school because at that time his needs were not being met by the public school. He had been assessed by the school psychologist, had testing, was diagnosed with ADHD and a reading delay. After one and half years on a plan with the district, administered by the private school he was caught up with no delay. The school district in a meeting with head of Special Ed and with their Psychologist told me that the district could not replicate the small class size or the reading instruction he was getting in the private school.... that said, he is now is second grade and in a bigger class room with more kids and the work is harder. I have totally considered putting him back in public school but was told by a district psychologist that he would most likely be placed in a behavioral classroom with the other kids who can't be contained.... I am trying to say this in the most correct way, but the kids who are aggressive, violent, swear, will not work... have been removed from regular classrooms for a variety of reasons. My son currently, other than not wanting to be at school, is not behaving in this manner, so that kind of freaked me out. I know this is an up and down thing, with cycles, and we live in a rural area, so there are very few choices of what we can do.

Again, I really appreciate all your time and advice. I am trying to be super mom, work, teach, earn money, do what is best for him... I feel almost stuck.

I am not anti public school. My husband is a public school teacher in another district and we just want what will be best for our son. I will take any advice, no matter how harsh anyone may feel it is. Right now he is so sweet, loving and caring... I don't want that innocence shattered so young. Settled is good too. But I am trying to do it without trauma. Honestly, I dread middle school. I remember going through it without any of his issues, and it was probably the worst time of my life.

Thanks for your response. By law, your son needs to be placed in the "LRE". Least restrictive environment, that is not in a class with children that have behavior issues. What do you think about placing him where you husband works? As teachers, this can be good and bad. If this is a larger district then you could get him the services he needs and he can still be in a general education classroom. There are many types of "services" he can be pulled out or they can "push in" depending on what is happening. It might just mean that he needs a "safe" person available to him when needed.

When the school did their assessment, did you and the teacher fill out an assessment and talk about strengths and weakness? Please also remember things are different for him now. Even if he qualifies for a 504 plan, which just gives him accommodations when he needs them, this will really help you.

Yes, I have been there where we want everything, work, family, sports and survive. Something has to change and even if it is for him and to find the right environment, you could take the rest of this year and look. Go tour different schools and see what could be available. Knowing that things will get tougher, if you start now getting things lined up it will really help in the future.

Yes, my son is the same way so sweet and athletic and the other minute getting suspended with bad grades ( also children with ADHD are often 2 years behind in their real years)... again this is not an easy journey.

Hope talking through it helps you to think about options that you might not know about.

If I can help again, I am always here for you!

Best of luck.

This is a really hard one. I know my daughter hates it at school. I know that she has a hard time socially, a really hard time. Every single day she calls the final road to school the "evil" or "bad" road. We talk, I try to reassure that she "has this", which she does. I've said this before, but often I cry a little bit after I drop her off. I know it's hard for her, but she just has to do this. I also make her do clubs two days a week after school. All of her therapeutic team and I think it's a good idea. She just has to somehow learn how to learn the social skills or at least try. It is probably, besides issues regarding her dad, the thing we work most on in therapy. It was hard for me, but for me, I can't just can't justify sending her out into the world without at least trying to help her how to just BE in the world. SO we go. And some days it is a real struggle. We celebrate when we do well and when we don't sometimes we just cry at night. It's ok. We've all been there. Just love him enough that he knows that you will ALWAYS be there at the end of the day.


My son is in first grade, and we were having the exact issues you describe (taking him to school only to have to pick him up a few hours later because of a meltdown) and he was IN public school. They tried several things to try to keep him in class, but the ultimate decision was that he needed a smaller classroom setting with more one-on-one attention. And unfortunately that also means that he’s with other kids like him. We have had mixed results with this arrangement, but even though we have experienced some added issues (cussing being the most prevalent), I still think it was the best decision. His teachers deserve to be made saints, they are so patient and kind. They try having him spend more time in a general Ed class, and he can come back if he gets overwhelmed. It isn’t perfect, but it’s the best solution we have. Good luck.

So sorry you are going through this. My daughter had lots of problems with school avoidance when she was in high school. Turned out she was severely depressed. Her older son started to have the same problems in middle school. We had to switch meds a couple of times now have him on Intuniv, Welbutrin and Seroquel. He also sees a counselor to deal with his anxiety.

My daughter did go to a private school. School did work with me but only with great effort on my part, constant notes from the doctor, counseling etc.

My grandson still does better in small classes but that isn't always available in public school.

Good luck finding answers for this.

I guess I should be super happy about the fact that my son doesn't actually HATE school. He has really nice friends there and only "HATES" math. I bought him a new math curriculum for home which teaches math in a different way that he is currently not hating. Getting him started at home is hard, but then he starts and he does really well. We aren't at the level he is at in school, but I see how they are really working to get kids to visualize and think about numbers as things, as opposed to just abstract constructs with rules...I'm explaining it wrong. There are rules...but you understand why and not just you do this and carry or borrow that. I hope it helps him.

As for school, he is just a very, very young 8. I mean, he is 8, but emotionally, I think he is more 6 or 7. He just really, really wants to be with Mom. Or 'flamily' - that is how he says it. In the past, he would come home from school and they would be like, don't make it fun, so we would do his school work and chores. I would have him vacuum or wash dishes or something. Wouldn't you know it, that kid was super happy to vacuum and clean because he was home with Mom.

I also think it is really important to do things with peers and learn to interact with other children. I had him in sports, but the parents were awful to us because he wasn't listening enough at T-Ball, or he wasn't focused on Soccer. The kids were Kindergarten, super focused. Some would bowl my son right over and he would leave crying, or only want to do it if I was there. This was through the rec center. We also did "Little Ninjas" which isn't martial arts, but more of a obstacle course activity, but he after a year he didn't want to do it. We did karate, which we are thinking about trying again, but at the time he was young and just couldn't stay with the class. Its been trying one thing after another. He is currently attending Scout meetings with his sister, even though he can't technically be a girl scout, but he is doing all the stuff and having a great time, so that is great. He is very creative and likes to decorate things, cook, paint...

I feel like mostly I shouldn't complain. But he should be in school. Life can't always be about fun stuff with Mom, or school work with Mom. I fear that someday I won't be around and I want him to be okay.

I am really glad to know I'm not alone. We have another appointment on Monday with his counselor and we will work towards slow reintegration. At home we are doing Math, basic spanish, reading, writing and some easy science experiments. I am hoping he doesn't fall too far behind.

It is not necessarily the fault of the school that he doesn’t want to go to school, which the first respondent implied. There are many reasons that kids may not want to go to school. And yes, such different offerings between school districts with different afministrators and interpretations of the law.

Our private school principal actually offered to make a visit to our home with a police officer (an understanding one who had the right touch) to help my son understand the consequences of not going to school. Admittedly we were dealing with a middle-schooler, and depression is a significant factor.

Best of luck to you. You are being a great advocate for your child. Put enough minds together and hopefully you will find a solution that works!

Yes, exploring different options is always best. Because we live on the boarder of another state in a very rural area - my husband actually teaches in another state - we are unable to place him in a different district. The state requires you be residence of the district or state to place him in the district. There are three elementary schools that feed the big middle school, which feeds the one high school. Kids with extreme behavior issues are put on busses or taxis every day for over an hour to specialty schools on the coast which is quite a drive. My son is at this time not one of those kids - he just gets very, very anxious about school and has deep fears about it. There are no charter schools and only one private school for elementary through high school, which is currently where both my children attend. My son attends because he needed a smaller class room and less distraction, and my daughter attends because of bullying. She asked to go there. I have no objection to public schools, its just that the one we were at was not a good match for my boy, and in third grade, my daughter was experiencing horrible bullying, which was confirmed by other parents. Two other parents pulled out their kids to home school. I had multiple meetings at the school and was hitting walls and when my son was 5 1/2, he actually ran away from the bus, down the road, crying. It crushed me.

Anyway, I appreciate all your input. I am glad to know I am not alone. I read everything you all write on this, because I think, someone is going to have an amazing idea to help, or a strategy we haven't tried, or one we have tried but in a new way.... I am super open to trying new things and will always try to do what is best for my guy. On the plus side, one thing our area does have is a very strong home school community of active parents who work together, so he would, if we had to go that path, have access ot other kids, field trips, varied curriculums and a fairly active rec program that may work better for him now that he is older.

You can try and talk to the board they may make an exception. They did with my daughter. They can overlook or overrule the school district rule if you ask for their help.

He obviously IS NOT READY for what is expected of him. Punishing him for it (even through disapproval) or forcing him to do it can be very damaging. He will not always be wanting to be with you. He is only 8. You are not "rewarding" him by bringing him home, by having him be with you -- you are being a caring mother. You are listening to him. He deserves this. I would not send a child to school because I have a business (and he is an "interruption"). I personally don't think that having one's own business should play any role in the decision of whether or not to send your child to school, especially if that child is having such trouble. As you said, at school he is "spending the whole time crying". I would be very concerned with that. Maybe you should figure out what positive thing(s) will help him to be ready, or figure out perhaps if this school is the right one for him, or if school is right for him at all right now (there is always homeschool, or at-home tutors, etc.).

I have the same issue with my son starting in 2nd grade and getting worse every year now he is 9 and eventhough he was supposed to be in 4th G, He was having hard time in 1st grade and then worse in 2nd I ask the school to have him repeat 2nd g and they refused they said it will hurt his self steem, my son was born at the end of July he is the joungest os most of his class mates he has ADHD and becasue of those 2 things he is very inmature for his biological age , but he is aware that all his peers are ansering all the questions right doing all the class work fast and he is not he calls himself stupid, dum, idiot, he compares himself with all the smart kids in his class or the kids that are doing better than him that is probably most of them and he dont want to go to school for that reason, ist a torture for him it is a daily remainder of how stupid he feels in the class, and even though he has an IEP and has many acomodations in the class ( inclussion ) he can not keep up with his class mates, I begged the epecials eds and regular teachers and principal to let him repeat 3rd G and they refused they said that becaseu he has an IEP it will be imposible, so actually having an EIP is working against my son well mental being? I dont get it.

I remember stating at the IEP meeting that my son felt that he was alwasy the last one in his class nad the answer I got was " some one has to be the last one" and I replied "yes you are right but I dont want my son to be the one"...this was last year class 2017-2018 in a Sommerset Academy chartes school , I tooking out of there I placed him in the regular county school in 3rd G and eventhough and after 3 weeks when they got the records from the other school that my son had done 3rd G the new school call me and told me that he can be in 3rd G again .

I had a neuropshycology test done on myson that shows that he has learing disabilities the public school also denide him the right to repeat 3rd G and want him to put him in 4th G, I refused and I took him out , now he is being doing on line home schooling 3rd G (Connections academy) they requiere minimum of 5 hours a day in lessons work done on the computer that they send daily also he has to attend 1 to 2 hours a day in life lessons in front of his computer with a camara so the teacher can see them. It still hard for him eventhough it is the same matterial he already did last year, and also he is getting tired of having to seat for so many hours ina desk , but this is part of his ADHD...

I am hoping next year his brain will be ready for 4th G if not I dont know what else to do, if any one has any advise for me please feel free to send me a message, we are now in Las Vegas Nevada but after the school is over in May we will be moving to Raleigh North Carolina hopping for a better school county, thanks.

This is so hard. I wish I could hug you. Its okay to be last sometimes, but to be last all the time and know that your class mates can do something you can't. It has to be sooo hard for him. My son was also on the young side - born in late August, he started Kindergarten just a week or so after turning five. We now treat that as an extra year of preschool and I remember he was SO excited to get on the bus because he was a big boy and he was so excited to go to school with his sister.... just a few months later he was being sent to the office for hiding under his desk, starting art projects without asking, making a finger gun to explain to other kids that you can't make finger guns...that was a fun day. I got the explanation that you can't even make a finger gun when you are telling kids and showing them it is against the rule to make a finger gun. Explaining that to a 5 year old boy with ADHD was super awesome. He sat in the office for several hours for that. A few months later he was running away from the bus and crying. It was awful.

I completely feel your pain. It has been helpful to think of my son has being younger than he is...yes, he is 8, but he is emotionally and maybe mentally a very young 7.

I know what school districts are legally supposed to do, but I realize they are overburdened also.... I have always felt it was up to me to make sure my son got what he needed, so we are looking at a home school program if he cannot reintegrate. I have already decided to cut off new clients at this time, its just hard when it hit suddenly and I had made commitments to people on what I would do for them. Also, financially, its a squeeze... on the plus side, as he gets older, my son also likes working with dogs, so having a job he can do, even if its just temporarily as he finds himself and his own passion, he will be capable and able to do something he likes. I also need to make money so we can live comfortably.... when I say I have my own business, I mean I have my own part time be a stay at home Mommy business. I feel like in my initial question that may have come across wrong. I am not running some crazy enterprise and neglecting my kids.

My son is very, very tech savvy, so I know that program would not work for him. By the time I made lunch or did the laundry, he would have reprogrammed my computer. He has shown me things on my cell phone that I didn't even know it did...

I find that surrounding myself with kindness has helped. I have always been one who does everything, doesn't ask for help, always says yes and does everything really, really well. I have to realize that is not my son and I am okay with that. It has forced me to slow down and try to remember the important things.

I have a friend in North Carolina. She has had many battles with the school system, but that was not around Raleigh.... I am in Western Maine.

How does your son do being dropped off at other places? Or is he always with a family member?

I'm sorry that you are having such a tricky situation! Though not this specific issue, we definitely have to feel out the line on a few of my son's anxiety issues. On the one hand, we don't want to push too far if he isn't ready. On the other, we need to raise him to be an independent adult and not validate that he is right to be afraid of these things. In most situations we introduce limited exposure, bit by bit, then build (example: we started with dropping him off for just an hour in Sunday School while we were elsewhere in the building, then built up to a few hours a day at preschool, etc.) Though I'm not sure how that will be repurposed for grade school.

Here's some articles I found that may interest you. Some of the things in them though you seem already on top of:

Hopefully the new counselor & psychiatric consult will have some ideas for you!

So, he is fine at home, around our home, in our little neighborhood area which is a very rural street with neighbors he has known for many, many years. He is fine with anyone in our immediate family - my parents, my husband's parents. He is fine with his sister, if I leave him in the car for a few minutes doing a dog visit if the house is very rural - never a parking lot or something like that, but I have clients who live way out on dirt roads with no houses around and that is okay.

His school is literally right next door to the fire station - they have a partial shared parking lot... he is still afraid a fire might happen and he might not be able to get out. He told me the other night while we were outside walking in the snow that the coyotes might attack us.... he has never seen one, and there are no coyote attacks on people in Maine? I mean, its not in the news or anything. He might get stolen, he can't be away from me. I really am at a loss. I think his anxiety is very, very real and I never make fun of him for it. I just try to calmly explain he safe. I.e. Coyotes don't attack people. We know a Forest Ranger. She can talk to us about the animals in our state and how we are very safe. The Firemen could be here faster than just about anywhere else. The school has a wet system installed and a really good fire alarm. The doors only lock from the outside, you aren't locked in. Its to keep you safe. Watch, we can open them from here.

In a way, it is very nice to have a kid who wants to be with you and loves you, but I also want to foster some independence. I am glad he likes to walk our dog on our road. I try to encourage him to do simple independent tasks... like we have a small market in our small town, he can go around the corner and grab a box of cereal for the cart or something like that. He meets all the Mennonite girls who work there, so everyone knows him.

Right now, every am I stay at the school with him for two hours so he can do some work. I sit upstairs while he is in his classroom. He can check that I am there, but I don't break promises. I am hoping we can work toward me leaving for the two hours, coming back, start with shorter times, building up. I have to get their bags ready for school now, but will totally check out the articles as soon as I get home.

Thank you so much !

just putting this out there, could he possibly be on the autism spectrum? My nephew is ASD and when he was a child he had so many fears. For instance, he was afraid of getting on a school bus, and he was afraid of playing in his own backyard unless the back door was left completely open so he could see into the house. He is very intelligent and has a masters degree but even as an adult, is fraught with fears.

We did have both our children screened, and neither are on the spectrum for autism. I appreciate your insight on this. We had explored it, because at one time my daughter did not want to talk on the phone and was really bothered by loud noises. These are other issues, but not spectrum issues apparently, and age has changed a lot of them.

I am experiencing this as well with my 2nd grader. He is in public school and has an IEP for his ADHD. With his IEP team we have worked out a strategy right now of where he does feel safe at school and he will go there. Problem issue - his classroom isn't one of those spaces, so this won't be a long-term solution. Plan right now is to get him feeling more confident and comfortable in school period and then slowly work him back in to classroom. If this doesn't work, we are considering changing his school placement so he can start fresh (we have a couple elementary schools in our town).

Son is in therapy for anxiety and does take an anxiety med. It will be a slow slog.

Both parents work full-time so picking him up or letting him stay home isn't an option. Homeschool is not an option. We had to work to get creative to approach this in a manner that worked for everyone.

Onthemove1971 profile image
Onthemove1971 in reply to

Thank you for sharing your experience. I am glad you guys have plan A and Plan B. Yes, it is a slow process, but you will get success. All you are doing will help him become successful. Great job!

Take care

Have you had him tested for strep throat? School refusal can be a symptom of PANDAS, too.

Dagamundo profile image
Dagamundo in reply to Jennifer01

We are going to his doctor on Wednesday. I will ask about this. He has had strep infections in the past, so that is a good thing to check. He has not had strep recently, but oddly enough, about two years ago he actually had Scarlet Fever, which I thought no one got anymore... but he had it. He is fully vaccinated...that usually comes up when I mention he had Scarlet Fever, I am not really sure why, but I thought I would add that. I was going to talk to his doctor about Focalin and anxiety. He also has a therapy appointment on Monday.

Jennifer01 profile image
Jennifer01 in reply to Dagamundo

There is a possibility that antibiotics could be very helpful in decreasing the separation anxiety and school refusal.

That is very significant. If I were you, I would try to find a PANS/PANDAS friendly doc in your area.

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