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  1. #1

    Default Homeschool and School Anxiety/Avoidance/Refusal

    Hi - I am new to the forum and contemplating homeschooling but am not sure if this is a viable answer or a short term band aid for our situation, would love input from parents who have been in a similar situation, and especially with kids who are now 18 and older, or High School age (ie. over this middle school adolescent developmental stage).

    I will try to be as brief as possible. My son is 14 and had a very mainstream first 12 years, no learning or behavior problems, did well at school and socially. His anxiety started after a transfer from a small private school into a large public school for 6th grade. He didn't know many kids, but went to school fine for 10 weeks, had kids to sit with at lunch, no bullying. When the anxiety started he was paralyzed by it and was unable to get out of the car. We ended up homeschooling him the rest of the year. But he is very social and wanted to return to a traditional school environment. The next school year we did a lot of prep to get him ready (he had a bigger friend group by this time, had been seeing a therapist...) but a week into the school year it started again. This last school year has been full of transitions as we tried to find the right fit -- smaller private school and then a 1 on 1 school (homeschooling again wasn't an option this last year). All the scenarios proved difficult, he did amazingly well at the smaller school for 4 months when it 'relapsed' and went about 3 months at the 1:1 school before relapse.

    With the next school year approaching, we are looking at all options, everything from returning to the public school which is still his goal though seems unreachable to me, to homeschooling and working more intensely with a new psychiatrist, to trying a therapeutic boarding school where he would get help for the anxiety by people who can handle it, to doing part time at public school and part time at 1:1 school.

    So finally my questions... do a lot of people choose homeschooling as a result of school anxiety? If so, how does the child do for High School, college and the professional world? I have read that some kids just have to outgrow this, others have continual problems. I am not sure what is the best option to help him long term. I can see how homeschooling could get him through this middle school phase and if it turned out he got past the anxiety in time it is great. But I could also see that if we homeschool him and he doesn't get over it, then what happens in HS and in college and in the working world?

    Your thoughts and experiences would be appreciated!

    Thank you!

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  3. #2

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    I don't have a lot of advice for you. I just wanted to say welcome to the forums. I know others will pipe in here.
    Kathi
    Mama to 12 year old Dakota and Gramma to Homeschooling Damien, Kennedy and Ciencia all using Time4Learning.com for online curriculum.
    Shop Etsy Buy Homemade http://hippiefairylover.etsy.com

  4. #3

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    We started homeschooling my older dd because of school anxiety. It was very similar in that she did well in elementary in ps, though I would not say she liked it. She did not hate it. But the switch to a very large junior high did not go well. So we pulled her from there and I intended to homeschool her just through junior high and then send her to high school. High school went a little better but not much and so we did dual enrollment. She just took one class at the high school for ninth grade (honors geometry) and we did everything else at home. For tenth grade she did honors chemistry. She is going to do her junior and senior years at the Univeristy here. Funny, she had anxiety about public school but not about a large university. She has met with her college adviser on her own, planned what to take and really I am not seeing any of the anxiety that we saw with ps. She does not start at the U for a couple weeks so I guess that could change, but so far so good.
    Julie,
    home schooling two dds 17(still waters) and 10(force of nature)

  5. #4

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    Thank you Julie for your reply. I do think there is something to be said for how we perceive a situation -- and maybe if our family makes this such a huge deal it will be a huge deal, or if we just choose homeschooling as an alternative approach, it could make it not such a big mental health deal.

    Congrats to you that your daughter is doing and has done so well; I know the opposite road is full of parental and student angst. When she was in 8th grade, were you teaching her or was she doing an online curriculum? My son was very disciplined in school, but at home with me I do not at all see that as being possible, thus my concern. There is an online curriculum here in WA "K12" I think, but I am not sure if it would be he or I managing it. When he was homeschooled for 6th it was mostly by another mom who was excellent at providing structure and teaching, I am not that good .

    Thank you so much for your input!

  6. #5

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    I thought about your post a lot last night. It kind of took me back to that hellish Fall. Dd16 was starting junior high and experiencing extreme anxiety (to the point of not being able to eat and when she did force it down having it come back up or go straight through her and intense stomach pain, not being able to sleep...) and Dd8 was starting kindergarten with an un diagnosed LD. Kindergarten was a disaster and she was hanging on to me screaming and begging every morning when I tried to drop her off. It was just a really awful time.

    I read EVERYTHING about school anxiety and refusal and it all was basically a variation on the theme "Don't give in to it or you will make it worse." And so that is what we tried to do, with accommodations from the school of course, and I wish we hadn't. There is this assumption that going to school is a necessary stage of development, almost as important as walking or talking or learning how to dress yourself. And it is not. If there was no school then there would be no such thing as school anxiety or refusal. I think that there is basically a mental illness type category created by school that would disappear if there were no schools (which there were not for most of human history) means that it is not really a mental illness or mental illness sub-type. It is a normal reaction for some people to the many unreasonable and dehumanizing things about spending most of your days in an institutional setting. Most kids can cope with it and many like it. But that some do not does not, in my opinion, mean that they should be diagnosed with anything. Both my kids run anxious for different reasons. But school pushed them over the edge and if I could go back in time I would never have sent them in the first place. It was not a good place for either of them. My older dd would never be diagnosed with anxiety now. She is doing really well, heading to college at sixteen and with ambitious plans for herself. My younger dd would because of her specific LD and it is much better for her to learn at home than to spend her days in a perpetual state of coping, never mind trying to actually learn anything while she is doing it.

    You say that your son wants to be in school even though it costs him so much to do it. I am just wondering, if he did not see it as a failure to not be able to be successful there, would he still want to go? Society defines not being able to cope with school as a failure or even a special category of mental illness. How does your son do otherwise? During the summer is he a mess of anxiety? If there were options besides school for education that were considered equally valid by you and I guess society in general and he had a choice would he still be determined to be in school? If we had continued to send our girls to school we would be spending a lot of time in psychiatry offices too. If I had found a boarding school to send my kids to that promised to cure their school anxiety and I had done it I think that would have crushed my girls spirits, their emotional and mental health, irreparably.

    Sorry if I am being judgmental. But I am trying to give you honest feedback. We could have gone the route of make school work at all costs. We stepped out of it. And it has been one of our best parenting decisions.
    Julie,
    home schooling two dds 17(still waters) and 10(force of nature)

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sleepless in Seattle View Post

    So finally my questions... do a lot of people choose homeschooling as a result of school anxiety? If so, how does the child do for High School, college and the professional world? I have read that some kids just have to outgrow this, others have continual problems. I am not sure what is the best option to help him long term. I can see how homeschooling could get him through this middle school phase and if it turned out he got past the anxiety in time it is great. But I could also see that if we homeschool him and he doesn't get over it, then what happens in HS and in college and in the working world?

    Your thoughts and experiences would be appreciated!

    Thank you!
    Our daughter was having severe anxiety issues in 3rd grade. It manifested itself as a fear of the fire alarm. She had had an ear procedure to correct a hearing problem, which lead to a hypersensitivity to loud noises (the anarchy of large groups, such as at lunch or in chorus, were also difficult for her). This was compounded by her poor reading. Her dyslexia made her feel stupid, isolated from her peers, and embarrassed. As a result, she tried too hard to impress peers and felt it was necessary to be part of the in-crowd. These anxieties all came together, leading to the point where she was frozen when it came time to get on the bus or walk into the building. It was awful. Every morning was a struggle to get her prepared for school, and every evening was spent soothing her emotional wounds. This went well beyond simple tantrums.

    So we've been homeschooling for three years, and while she still has some anxiety, she's also matured a lot and has more confidence. She volunteers at the vet's office, where people think she's 16 because she can carry on conversations so well. She's performed in numerous plays. Of course, there are times when her anxiety gets the better of her, like when she recently refused to sing alone at a recital and asked her teacher to sing with her. It was awkward, but it worked out in the end. The fact that she's getting on stage at all is huge.

    I had similar issues in grade school, though not as severe. I did very well academically, but that made for awkwardness of a different nature. I was soooo awkward. Socially inept is a good way to put it. I was a bully's favorite target. It got to the point where I would break into a sweat each morning as I approached school and begged to sit in the back row because I hated the idea of anyone looking at me.

    I turned out just fine Lol.... I was in high school when I hit my stride. I found a nice group of friends and was better at shrugging off the teasing. By college, I was confident enough to play onstage in a band, and later I went into social work and teaching. Was I always good at it? No way. Was I still anxious every time I walked in front of a group of people? Absolutely. But I realized along the way that much of it had to do with my own attitude. I had very low self-esteem, so I was eager to fit in and to be liked. I cared too much about what others thought, and how I was perceived. As the years went on and I matured, I realized more and more that the only perception of self that mattered was my own.

    Now, I see similar things with my daughter. Unfortunately, she's hyper-focused on what clothes to wear, is boy-crazy, and she hides behind me when we walk into a restaurant or someone's house or a store. Honestly, I think she would get sucked into that cruel machine that is middle school within the first day and be traumatized. We hear horror stories from friends about life for middle school girls and we think there's no way we're sending our daughter into that chaos. Our long-term plan is to HS for 7th and 8th grade, then revisit the idea of public school.

    We know that homeshooling has helped her a lot already in dealing with her anxieties. She feels safe at home. It's quiet and relaxed. There are no fire drills, no cliques, no rowdy lunchrooms. Homeschooling has allowed her to deal with her anxieties on her own terms, rather than having to face them all, day in and day out. She has plenty of social interactions, but they are manageable, rather than seven hours of not knowing what to expect. I know that she's in a better place now than if she had stayed in PS.

    How will she be in high school and as an adult? I think she'll be just fine. She's human, so of course she'll always consider how others see her, and she may be like me and need to avoid large crowds for extended periods of time. But she's already made big strides in becoming more confident and aware of her anxieties.

    Sorry for being long-winded, but your question struck close to home, and I wanted to share our similar experiences with anxieties. I hope this helps a bit. Good luck in your decision.
    Dad to two: DD, 12 and DS, 8.5

  8. #7
    Senior Member Arrived dbmamaz's Avatar
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    Anxiety wasnt the reason we pulled him, exactly, although he would often call me mid-day, crying, begging for me to come get him, and his iep meetings focused on how to keep him away from the phone and the nurses office and in the classroom. He was in 7th grade.

    My doubting husband, my mom, the neighbor across the street could all see how much happier he was within 3 months of homeschooling.

    He'll be starting community college in 2 weeks, and we're both nervous, buy my daughter said that community college was SO much less stressful than high school - i mean, if he has a panic attack, he can simply leave the room. He doesnt have to ask permission and cant be given detention for walking out. And my daughter said the professors treat you more like an adult who is paying their salary than a child who is constantly in need of punishment.
    Cara, homeschooling one
    Raven, ds 10, all around intense kid
    Orion, floundering recent graduate
    22 yo dd, not at home
    Inactive blog at longsummer

  9. #8

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    Hi Sleepless...

    Anxiety is not necessarily one of the main reasons why some families choose to homeschool their kids - but it most certainly can be one factor. After all, most people feel anxiety in their lives, and most parents just expect their kids to 'get over it' - and most in fact do. Or, a school and parents work together on a regular basis to deal with a child's anxiety issues. Some schools do better than others. Most do barely adequately, tbh.

    Homeschooling is not necessarily the answer if a child wants to be at school. Some kids actually don't do well when homeschooled, because the WANT to be at regular school (public or private) and no matter what you do at home, they will balk. Many families on this forum have kids both schooling at home and at regular school quite successfully, which is an amazing thing to do, especially if in your heart you believe homeschooling is the best route no matter what.

    I have one child - a boy, aged 15. He has been at regular school, private and public, and been homeschooled, since age 4.5. Homeschooling has been the best for him. He doesn't want friends, isn't into sport, hates "busy" work, and thinks the subjects offered at school is rather boring (he feels that education should be INTERESTING and FUN...weird, huh! LOL). Apart from that, he has Asperger's, so goes into sensory overload in a school environment, and learns rather 'differently'.

    The advantage to having to make this decision so late on in your DS's school career is that he's old enough to be a part of that decision. Don't forget to suggest that he could in fact fast-track his schooling, or go to community college once he's finished his Sophomore year and has a good enough ACT/SAT score (or takes their placement tests), he could perhaps dual-enroll with your local or another nearby high school...there are options to the traditional route kids go.

    Aspie
    *************************************************
    GRADUATION, SUMMER 2015!
    NOW ON TO COLLEGE, 2015/2016 SCHOOL YEAR

  10. #9
    Senior Member Arrived dbmamaz's Avatar
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    Oh, I forgot - if this was somewhat sudden, has he been screened for PANDAS? Some kids can have an OCD reaction to strept, and should always be considered if it seems like a sudden onset of anxiety. Esp if it starts in the cold weather.
    Cara, homeschooling one
    Raven, ds 10, all around intense kid
    Orion, floundering recent graduate
    22 yo dd, not at home
    Inactive blog at longsummer

  11. #10
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    Hi Sleepless - You've gotten lots to think about here already.

    I homeschool my son b/c he has special needs (ADHD in short) that made school intolerable. We tried 2 rounds of Kinder (we were slow on the pick-up). We never say never, but I doubt he'll go back to traditional school, ever.

    I now believe that school is not very good for most kids and awful for some. I think it's more helpful to stop worrying about whether my son has issues labelled a "disorder" and focus on helping him live and be to his potential. Maybe your son also has a school created anxiety disorder. Maybe, like Dbmamaz pointed out it is (or is also) something else. Best wishes as you continue to seek out help and try to sort it out.

    I can also say that I had "school/family turmoil" created anxiety disorder as a kid. Panic attacks at different points. Most of the time I spent in school during 8th grade was one long, managed panic attack for me. Hellacious. High school was a lot better - made some good friends I still have. Still really didn't like school and often skipped. Insomnia didn't help. Quit a few weeks before my 17th b-day. Now I know that was actually perfectly legal, even then.

    One of my proudest life moments was my decision to quit school. I went to the attendance office after a couple of days of being absent to get the required slip to go to class. Vice Principal walked in, knew me and my problems with attendance, and (probably in exasperation) said, "Why are you here? What are you doing?" (She might have meant here in the office, but I took it in the larger sense - for the first time ever, really). I looked up and muttered something like, "I don't know. But....I think I am going to go home." I left the office, walked down the hall to my locker, grabbed some stuff and put it in my backpack. Vice Principal came after me. Said, "Wait what are you doing?" I said, "I'm going home." I kept walking away. From down the hall she called, "Are you coming back?" (or something like that). I turned around before walking out the side door (the nearest exit) and said, "No, I don't think so."
    I remember just feeling dazed by this idea, the first time I'd had it, that there wasn't actually a good reason to stay.

    Before I made it home VP had called my mom at work and my mom had called a left a distraught message for me. Before the day was over I made a list of restaurants to apply to. I knew my parents wouldn't be down for me doing nothing. They tried to send me to a private school, but I told them I would feel too guilty about the $ when I didn't want to be there (after a week or so of a trial run). I got a full time job. Moved again (in with my dad). Worked full time and took community college classes. Eventually finished at a small lib arts college. (Favorite movie line ever, "Lots of people take 7 years to finish..." "Yeah, they're called doctors." - I also took about 7 years to get thru undergrad degree!).

    I liked college so much I just kept at it. I have a PhD and teach and research part-time. I don't have anxiety/depression anymore, but I did battle it for a long time and I am prone to slip back into less helpful ways of coping with stress. Removing (permanently) the stress of attending school went a long way to helping me get better. I feel very grateful that ultimately my parents and family accepted my decisions and supported me as I sorted myself out.

    I hope our stories help you/your family get different perspectives on your son's situation. I think what AH said was pretty wise.

    Can you and he come to believe that his anxiety/inability to do well in school is NOT "failure" on his part? That the problem is school, not him? Doesn't mean, like Pilgrim and others have said, that he/you all don't need to help him in general. Doesn't mean there might not be other reasons for the anxiety problems that y'all will have to work to sort out (as AH/Pilgrim/Dbmamaz and others have suggested). Just means he shouldn't have to feel he is less b/c school is a problem for him.

    One last piece of advice as you engage with professional experts/docs, etc. If y'all choose to go with some sort of non-traditional (homeschool/some school/whatever) route: Lots of well-meaning experts might think that treatment should be geared to returning him to school. I'd find experts who either don't think like that, or are willing to work with y'all to help him -- without going back to school being the goal/benchmark for success of any treatment.

    Best of luck, and welcome to the forum (you have found a pretty cool place, IMO).

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Homeschool and School Anxiety/Avoidance/Refusal