Friday, June 3, 2011


Today is the last day of school. It’s been a crazy week filled with end of the year parties and games. For most kids, it’s the best week of school ever. But for my son who has social anxieties, to say it’s difficult is an understatement. Yesterday, he had a BBQ on campus that lasted 3 hours. That’s 3 long hours of unstructured time, filled with the pressures and stress of how to fit in with the other kids. When I asked my son how it went, he said it was good. When I asked him what he did the whole time, he said that he mainly sat alone away from everyone.

As we discussed it further I acknowledge that it must be hard to mingle with the other kids so I offered a suggestion of sitting closer to the group so that it would be easier to get included in the activities. His response, as he choked on his words with tears was, “When I sit close to them I feel more sadness because I see all the fun they’re having, so I feel better sitting away from them.”

Ahhh, I get it. He sits at a distance as a defense mechanism. Now it makes since.

I grabbed him in a big hug and held him close, wishing I could magically take away all these struggles. I realized then that he’s been walking around with a brave face, putting up with it all and being strong. Just a day prior, he complained that two girls from a lower grade had approached him and called him a “freak”. At the time, he seemed to be handling it pretty well as he went on to tell me about something fun in his class. But seeing him break apart last night, I realized then that he’s built a strong wall to survive and is doing his best to keep it together.

Today, I’m struggling on how to help him. I can’t see this kind of socializing continuing. How does a kid get through school alone. How do I help him “fit in” and feel more comfortable? My concern is that if it continues, he will become even more isolated and ostracized by his peers.

I really need your help with this one. What should we do?

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Photo provided by:
Candy de la Peña


  1. My heart breaks for your boy. All that hurt.

    Both my kids have suffered with this. 3 years ago, my son was bullied badly, and this year my daughter didn't have one friend at school.

    Our solution was to move to a different school -- we found a small school that catered to kids who "learn differently". Its worked very well for my kids. They finally feel accepted.

    Does your son do any activites or groups? I know this is sometimes hard. What about a social skills group?

  2. When I made the decision to start homeschooling, the big question people tended to ask was "What about socialization?" I told them I didn't want my son having the negative type socialization he was getting in school. (but my decision to homeschool also involved other factors--school was not a good fit in several areas)

    I know it took me a while to let go of the idea of school as this "social utopia" where all these kids (the same age, that are thrown in with each other) will want to be together. But it doesn't work like that. (I think that is why, despite all the no tolerance campaigns, bullying is still very prevalent.)

    Think about the people you choose to have around you right now and where you met them. As adults we have so much more choice about who we want as friends.

    I think it is next to impossible for out of the box type kids to get their social needs met well in school. But if they have a special friend outside of school it can help off set the hurt of not fitting in.

    I also think it is not the quantity of friends, but the quality of friends. One great friend can do a lot more for a person than a whole army of acquaintances. School may not be the best "hunting ground" for finding that friend.

    My son got a lot out of a social skills group, and from participating in 4-H, where kids are grouped by interests and not so much by age. The 4-H kids don't think my son is weird because he likes to bake pizza and plant trees--because that is what they like to do too.

  3. We are thinking about homeschooling our son. He too has the negative peer relationships and it's just so hard to see. I agree with the Heather, the previous commenter.

  4. Here are my thoughts....take them or leave them. What about opening up to the school and seeing what services are available? Our school has specialized services for kids that need it, i.e., counseling, etc. Are there smaller charter schools in your area? They tend to cater to each students individual needs. Maybe opening up to others about what your son's diagnosis (or lack of) is, may help others to understand and be more compassionate. It sounds like a change is schools may be in order.

  5. These are all really good points. What makes this hard is when I ask him about going to another school he wants nothing to do with it. He still embraces his school and wants to be a part of it. If he wanted out of there, it would be an easy decision to move him.

    Also, I don't know how much of his experience is based on his mood state from his disorder. In other words, when he is depressed, he seems to think that everyone is against him and doesn't like him, so this sets himself up to stand away from everyone (which draws negative attention from mean kids).

    But, when he is feeling good, he can socialize so much better, finds himself fitting in better and participates more in relationships. So being this is the case, if we move him to another school, will his moods still bring out the same experience?

    Then on the other hand, if we move him to homeschooling I worry greatly about being able to educate him since most of his rages happened during school work. Today, he won a medal for academic achievement for the school year, so I know he is still thriving from a academic stand point. I feel so torn with this.

    Do we wait until he is asking for a change? Or force one on him?

  6. Oh, Mama Bear, big hugs for you and for him!!! It is so hard to sit back and see our kids suffer. The isolation that they bring on themselves makes my heart break. We went through several years where my daughter would spend her entire playground time sitting with the teachers because she was more comfortable with adults than with her peers. She would eat lunch most days in her "resource" room with her favorite teacher, again because she was isolating herself. Unfortunately we can't force friendships on our kids and we can't make them feel accepted by others. I prayed for years that my daughter would have even just one good friend who would be there no matter what.

    This year all that isolation came to a head when she started middle school. Thankfully she did have one good friend who stuck by her and was able to take action when she saw my daughter become suicidal at school. Ultimately for us we had to pull her from the big public school and move her to a very small private school (only 3 other kids in her class). But the timing was everything. If we had suggested or forced the school move before she was ready, it would not have gone well. I have always said that if we tried to homeschool my daughter, one of us would not live through it... seriously! I can really relate to schoolwork being a trigger point for rages which is why it would not work for us.

    Praying for you as you make some big decisions this summer!

  7. Oh gosh, that just breaks my heart. I don't have really any good suggestions that have not already been said. If he wants to stay at the school, I'd just leave him. And congrats to him for the academic achievements!! That is half the battle!!

  8. So sorry your son is going through this, Mama Bear! We’ve definitely been there. I agree with the other suggestions: a social skills group at school and trying to make friends outside of school has helped Bug.

    Also, I wonder if your son’s wanting to stay in his current school is more about a fear of change than really liking where he is now? Sometimes it’s easier to stay with what’s familiar, even when it’s not working, rather than risk the discomfort of trying something new that will make you happier in the long run. Especially for kids like ours. Just a thought--I know there are no easy answers. He’s lucky to have you for a mom.

  9. Here's a different path of thinking. I know the idea of adding any more medicines feels awful in a number of ways, but would it make sense to discuss these issues with his pdoc from a medical point of view (depression and or anxiety that medicine might help). We went through a few really tough years with my son and it wasn't until recently when we added lamictal and he got up to a therapeutic dose that we realized how happy he was capable of being. We had gotten used to seeing him look so grumpy at school. And now when I see him looking like "one of the crowd" I realize just how depressed he was. It really hit home that we are dealing with a "mood" disorder.


  10. My daughter has expressed this week that there is nothing to look forward to during recess. She just shrugged and said she usually reads by herself and doesn't play with anyone. When I asked why she just said, "I don't know, I just don't know how." That struck me as SO SAD. I can empathize with the helpless feeling as a parent. I can offer her all sorts of strategies, even write ideas on cards for her to carry as "book marks", but the anxiety or the frustration of not understanding the social cues given by peers, which results in misunderstandings can just be too much. I feel her/their pain.

    My son was also crying today as he expressed that everyone at school thinks that he is "stupid" and that he is just "not cool". He happened to be frustrated about the prospect of parting with some of his toys because in his mind they equate to who is "cool" and who is not. Hmmmm.... (Somehow all those dots are not being connected me thinks.)

    Anyway, I agree with Heather, as well as the idea regarding the social skills groups. We started with one here in our area, but neither of my kids could continue as the therapists deemed that there deficits were such that they needed individual therapy before they could effectively benefit from and contribute to a group. Essentially, their behaviors were too disruptive. But I do think that maybe D could now try again! Despite the difficulties, when I have asked about alternative schools, both of them were adamant that they were not going to leave their school! I give them credit for not giving up. Maybe they are wiser than I imagine. :)

  11. Wow, I'm so sad to read this post and I so wish you lived closer to me. Maddox goes to these really cool "Friendship Groups" which are socialization therapy for kids with ADHD, Bipolar, Asbergers, etc. He's with a bunch of other boys that are his age and they learn how to read body language, how to make friends, how to deal with rage, etc. It's EXPENSIVE, but really worthwhile. One of the biggest benefits was to this group therapy is that THIS is where he's finally felt a sense of belonging. ALL of these kids have similar issues and he finally feels he's not alone. His two best buddies now are kids from therapy. But he's also learned to fit in a bit better at school by using the techniques he's learned in group. (This summer, he's there twice a week for 2.5 hours per day!)

    See if you can do a google search for "Socialization Groups" or "Kids Group Therapy" or call around to some of the psychologists in your area that specialize in kids with ADHD and see if they can help you find something. I SO highly recommend it! If nothing else, maybe you can convince one of the psychologists that they need to start one!

  12. Thank you everyone for your feedback, there have been so many thoughtful comments and I’m just taking time to absorb it all. What would I do without you??

    I think I’ll let his Pdoc know, so we can evaluate if Lamicital is necessary yet. I have a gut feeling that this drug can do wonders since he struggles with depression, but now that it’s summer, I don't want to rush into it unless we have to.

    Again... I’m going to read everyone comments several times and soak it all in.

    Thank you so much!!!

  13. I also need to look into social groups, but I’m afraid that he wouldn't want anything to do with it. Did your kids resist it at first?

    As for the comment about not wanting to switch school because he may be afraid of change, I think this is a major factor. But if he feels some security in the familiar, letting him be may be good, at least for his final year at elementary.

    Middle school may be the spark that makes the biggest changes for him.

  14. Maddox was actually excited about the social groups because they are called "Friendship Groups" and they get to earn field trips where they can work on their social skills in places they might normally be overstimulated, like the bouncy house, bowling alley, climbing gym, etc. They also do art therapy, role-playing activities, and games. We had an initial meeting one-on-one with the psychologist who runs the groups and she had an amazing way of presenting this idea so it sounded like the coolest thing ever. They really do a lot of fun things to make it seem less like therapy and more like "fun". I think it all depends on how it's presented...