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How To Help A Child With Anxiety About School: School Refusal Interventions for Teens & Their Parents

School refusal presents numerous challenges that hamper a child's educational progress and development. To navigate these difficulties, it is critical to get professional support from educational psychologists, child therapists, and school counselors who can devise an appropriate action plan to reintegrate the child into the school environment.

Tackling school refusal is a complex process with numerous challenges that hinder a teen's educational progress and overall development. Overcoming these hurdles requires the expertise of psychologists, adolescent therapists, and school counselors who work together to create a customized plan designed to successfully reintegrate the teen back into the school setting.

In this episode, therapist Tiffany Silva Herlin, LCSW, and Gentry Peppin, a special education teacher at WayPoint Academy, discuss:

  • The impact school refusal has on relationships.
  • The role of family support in receiving accommodations.
  • School refusal Interventions for overcoming shame and asking for help.
  • Understanding 504 and IEP Plans.
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If your adolescent is experiencing anxiety and emotional distress that are affecting their ability to attend school, we have the solution. WayPoint Academy has customized interventions that target the underlying causes and enable students to regain their confidence in learning. Our compassionate and knowledgeable team offers comprehensive care to help teenagers reconstruct their educational paths, reconnect with their social circle, and cultivate their mental well-being for a brighter future. Let us support you in this journey of healing and growth. To learn more about our services, call us at 801-334-2694

Listen To the Podcast:

An image promoting WayPoint Academy's Podcast on School Refusal. This Episode is called, How To Help A Child With Anxiety About School: School Refusal Interventions for Teens & Their Parents"

Interested in Learning More?

This is the second episode in WayPoint's podcast series on School Refusal. You can listen to episodes 1 & 3 by visiting these pages:

1. What is School Refusal: The Causes and Effects of School Anxiety on Teens

3. Help, My Teenage Child Refuses To Go To School Because Of Anxiety! When to Seek Professional Help for School Refusal

School Refusal Podcast Transcript:

Podcast Topics
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    Introduction

    Welcome. This is the transcript for our podcast on school refusal. Is your teen struggling with school refusal or are you uncertain about how to support your teen in overcoming school related anxiety? Then this podcast is tailored for you. Our goal is to offer helpful guidance and insight from experienced professionals who can help you navigate this challenging situation.

    My name is Tiffany Herlin, and I am a licensed clinical social worker, and today I'm interviewing Gentry Peppin. She's a special education teacher at WayPoint Academy, a residential treatment program that specializes in helping teens with anxiety.

    Please remember that this podcast is not a replacement for therapy. Please always seek a mental health professional for your specific situation.

    All right, Gentry, thanks for joining us today. Start with telling us a little bit about yourself and what your role is at WayPoint Academy.

    Gentry Peppin: Hi, I'm glad to be here. I've been working at WayPoint Academy since 2016. I started as a secondary math education teacher there and since then have gotten my special education endorsement as well as a master's in behavior analysis.

    Tiffany: Awesome.

    Gentry: And my role now is to provide support to both students and teachers and families. throughout their education at WayPoint.

    The Struggle of Anxious Teens in a School Setting

    Tiffany: Let's start with the teens. What obviously are teens struggling with or how is it manifest in their life? What do you see?

    Gentry: With our teenagers and struggling with anxiety, especially anxiety that shows up in the school setting. We see a lot of withdrawal and that can start out even just within the classroom. So keeping their head down, not engaging, not asking for help and what could be a once straight A student, we start to see that slowly decline and assignments aren't getting turned in, they're getting turned in late, they're incomplete. They're not interacting with their peers and discussion groups.

    And then sometimes that then leads into the school refusal. They're not showing up for a class. They're heading home early, avoiding the lunchroom and those areas where they have to interact in social situations, and they're just generally pulling back away from those stressors in their life.

    Tiffany: I think the big thing is avoidance, right, is what we see with this anxiety is there. Like you said, avoiding whatever is causing them stress.

    Gentry: Correct.

    Tiffany: Trying to escape from it, like we talked about in the previous episode.

    Gentry: Yes.

    Tiffany: I think some other things that are important to note is like there's life interfering behaviors, that they may be exhibiting like you already talked about, you know, putting their head down, not turning in assignments and then there's this pattern of not completing things, correct? So then it's just even adding more to the anxiety, right?

    Gentry: Right. Yeah. It's kind of that, it's a spiral that happens and a cycle that they get into where, Oh, I'm not sure about this assignment. So I didn't finish it and turn it in. Which then leads them into the next assignment. Well, I haven't finished that last one. How am I going to do this one? And it just perpetuates, and they don't want to maybe admit that they're not doing well on an assignment, or ask for help, or let other peers know that they're struggling with something. And so it just keeps going and going.

    Tiffany: Which leads to the somatic symptoms, the video games, the staying up late, the refusing to get out of school, you know, out of bed, go to school, right?

    Gentry: Right.

    Tiffany: Just all kind of, it's a domino effect, I'm sure.

    Gentry: Exactly.

    How Sleep Affects School Refusal

    Tiffany: Yeah. How does school refusal affect their sleep?

    Gentry: We see a lot of students start to develop non routine sleep patterns, or they get off of that natural circadian rhythm of, you know, we sleep at night, we get up in the morning, we go to school, we go to work, go home, go to sleep, and we repeat that cycle. And with the school refusal, either they're sleeping in, and then that leads to them needing to stay up at night because they're not tired.

    Tiffany: Which comes first, the chicken or the egg, right?

    Gentry: Right, yeah, they can lead to one to the other. Or are we staying up at night, and then that makes it difficult to get up in the morning. But oftentimes there is a falling out of routine, and one affects the other, or they both affect each other.

    Tiffany: So sleep, and as we all know, that when you're not getting your sleep, you're not your best version of yourself, and it affects everything in your life.

    Gentry: Right, it affects that mental ability to process information, to accurately read social situations, to interact in school, to be present.

    Tiffany: Even it, you know, it throws off your nervous system. So you're thrown more into that fight, flight or freeze effect and be more reactive, right?

    Gentry: Yes. Yeah. More irritable.

    Tiffany: You throw in hormones with a teen and it's just, it's a lot of fun when they don't get sleep, right? As you parents who are probably listening know. So sleep's important.

    Effects on Relationships

    Tiffany: What about relationships and like say their ability to make and keep friendships. How does it affect that?

    Gentry: Yeah, students with the chronic absenteeism or even spotty, either they're one day, not they're the next, start to struggle with their peer relationships. They're missing out on what happened at maybe lunch the day before or getting invited to things because they're not consistently there and involved with their friends.

    And so, we start to see a strain on relationships in the school environment, which then can also lead to a strain on relationships outside of school, and they start to withdraw more because now that peer relationship is causing anxiety.

    Tiffany: So then the peer relationship itself Is now affecting and maybe contributing to school refusal?

    Gentry: It definitely could be.

    Tiffany: So is that kind of same idea with the sleep? You know, like, it's a domino effect.

    Gentry: Right, and can, you know, go back and forth between the two. Which one's causing which? Is the lack of being there causing the social anxiety? Or is the social anxiety causing the wanting to escape?

    Impact on Relationships with Parents

    Tiffany: What about, like, relationships with parents? How does it affect that?

    Gentry: I'm sure, you know, in the home, that the teens can probably sense frustration from their parents. Maybe they feel like they're letting their parents down, which just exasperates that anxiety. And how do we get out of the cycle that's going on? And how do you fix that relationship?

    There's oftentimes with a an extended school refusal, there's some family work that needs to be done. Some repairs that need to be made, whether that be with trust, you know, my trusting that my kid is going where they're saying they're going in the event that maybe the student is skipping school and the parents are, you know, not aware of it for a time being. Is there trust that, you know, I can trust that you're going to follow the routine, go to bed at night, get up in the morning and do what you need to do.

    Tiffany: And maybe, are you telling me the truth? Like, are you genuinely sick? Are you genuinely, you know, not able to go to school? Right? And that's gotta break a lot of trust too.

    Gentry: Yeah. Yeah. And so, and I think in both ways, you know. And then the teen is feeling that maybe some disconnect from their parents in those situations of what can I tell my parents where...

    Tiffany: They're not gonna trust me anyways, even if I am telling them the truth. I see that a lot as a therapist especially in the residential setting of teens getting frustrated that their parents don't trust them and believe them and it's like helping them understand like, Yes, you may be now finally telling the truth, but you've burned a lot of bridges in the past and that trust needs to be built up.

    Gentry: Yes.

    Tiffany: I talked about this with another professional, but one of my favorite things that he said is that... I'm trying to remember... Trust is gained in drops and lost in buckets. So a lot of times helping teens understand how that that works when they've lost a lot of trust with their parents or those who they have a relationship with.

    School Refusal Affects Motivation

    Tiffany: How does school refusal affect lack of motivation? Or is that tied together? Is motivation tied with school refusal? What's that? What do you think?

    Gentry: Yeah, I think as that absenteeism occurs, then the motivation to kind of pull yourself out on your own is going to wane. It becomes this daunting task of, Oh, I'm behind, I've missed content. This is going to take a lot of work. And where there might've been some anxiety and stressors around doing the work in the first place, now I have to do more to get back on track can make you want to avoid it even more.

    Tiffany: I'm hearing a pattern. Is that sometimes, you know, sleep, relationships, motivation might start the domino effect, but they play into each other and make it, like you said, that spiral and it's just hard for them to get out of, right?

    Gentry: It is. Yeah, they, yeah, they start to lose that confidence in their abilities and may start to question, can I do this? Is it worth it to do this? It's going to take a lot from me as the student to change and do something about it and climb back out. Is that worth it to me?

    Tiffany: So then the biggest kicker is how does it affect, like we've talked about their identity and confidence.

    Gentry: Yeah, and it's got to be very hard for a teenager in that situation with their self confidence because they've seen what was, you know, a lot of them were very successful elementary school and the middle school doing really well and then now all of a sudden they're not and that, where their identity might have been in school, most of our, you know, students at WayPoint were very bright students in school, doing extremely well.

    Tiffany: Yeah.

    Gentry: And then all of a sudden it's not going how it was and they kind of lose, they lose their identity in that smart, top of the class student.

    Tiffany: Yeah. Well, and one thing to point out also, too, with the confidence piece, if you can't say like, okay, I'm going to make it to school today and you don't make it to school, or I'm going to turn in this paper and you don't turn in that paper, and then that starts to build up and build up, build up, your brain all of a sudden starts going. Yeah, you're not really good at this. It's going to contribute to that depression, that low self esteem, and then you start developing these core beliefs in this script of, again, I'm not good enough. I'm not smart enough. I can't even complete this simple thing, you know, like why, and so that's going to have that domino effect into their adulthood if we're not able to intervene.

    Gentry: Exactly, and it builds that pattern and those new habits are forming, of avoidance and it's hard to break habits once they're formed and the students, with that lack of self confidence, and maybe they're even doing, you know, some therapy work at home or working with a guidance counselor at school and they say, Oh yes, I'm going to go to class the next day.

    Tiffany: Yeah.

    Gentry: And then they try to, and it doesn't work and it just takes that ding to the self confidence again.

    Tiffany: And then maybe they don't tell the truth to their therapist the next time they see him like, Oh yeah, I totally went to class. And then that just again, reinforces like, Oh, you can't even tell your therapist the truth, right?

    Gentry: Right.

    Understanding Teen Behavior

    Tiffany: So I guess, why are we going over this if you're a parent listening? We want to give parents some empathy, some insight into, it's easy to get frustrated with the behavior and what's going on in front of you, but to help see how things play into one another and how your teen may really just be in this awful spiral or cycle that they're really struggling to get out of. It's not that they don't want to get out of, but things are compounding them and making it mentally, and maybe even physically, Impossible at the moment to get out of, right?

    Gentry: Yeah, and I think for me coming from, originally background as a public school teacher to residential, this was one of the big shifts that I took is, you know, when you only see your students for 60 minutes a day in math class, is what I taught, and you're like, this kid just doesn't want it. Or they're just not showing up. Why are they skipping class? Why aren't they here to do their work? Maybe they don't want it.

    Tiffany: Can I just say here, real quick, it's easy to fall into this, oh, they're just lazy, or they're just being defiant. You know, it's easy to fall into this, like, oh, they're just kind of trying to, they're being a butt, yeah. Sorry. Yeah, versus...

    Gentry: Versus now really understanding those underlying internal worlds that our teenagers are going through and what's happening that you might not see on the surface level and having, like you said, the empathy to understand that and realize it's going to take time and it's a process to work through that and build them back up.

    Tiffany: Well, when you can see that... I'm trying to think. Like, I'll give an example. It's easy when you're dealing with like, say, a toddler versus a teenager, and your toddler's melting down, it's easy to be like, oh, why are you crying and, you know, throwing a fit in the grocery store versus, oh, you've skipped your nap, or you're having a hard day, or you're teething, or, you know, I'm just putting this in perspective because I just, I just have a toddler right now too, and I also have teenagers, but it's easier when I'm a parent to be like, you're having a hard time and then my response to that is a lot more empathetic and kind to help them get out of it versus, Just get up. Stop crying. Why are you doing this? You know, what I think it's oh, it's at me versus Oh, no your world's... you're struggling, like you just got back from a trip. Whatever it is.

    If we can do that also with our teenagers, it's a lot more complex and difficult. Yeah, because we don't always know what's going on like we do with our younger kids. But to be like, oh like, this is really affecting your confidence and oh, you didn't get any sleep last night. Of course, you're gonna be really dysregulated and also rude and disrespectful to me today, right? Like it doesn't excuse the behavior. You still need to hold them accountable, but helping you, as a parent, understand there's so much more going on and helping, it's your role to figure out what that is. Then you can start helping your teen.

    Gentry: Yes. Yeah, we never, you know, it's like you said, we don't want to excuse the behavior but to understand where it's coming from can make the difference in how we respond to the situation.

    Importance of Understanding Underlying Issues

    Tiffany: Is there anything else that you'd want parents to know as an educator that you wish parents, before they get to residential treatment, what they could do to help their teen in this situation?

    Gentry: You know, every student is different like we talked about in the last episode. Going back to really identifying what is the function of that behavior? Where is this coming from? Is it social? Is it classroom expectations, perfectionism, anxiety? What is the underlying cause? And that's how we can start to address it.

    And helping your student with those advocation skills and reaching out. You know, if you notice your student is struggling in a classroom, help them reach out to their teacher because not only does that help address whatever issue is going on, but it also, I think, will build up their self confidence because it's something that they did.

    Tiffany: You're empowering them versus rescuing them.

    Gentry: Correct.

    Tiffany: Okay. So that's something you wish parents maybe did more in the class, or in the school setting, right, when they're with their parents. So yeah, it's easy as a parent to want to jump in and make the phone call to the teacher and be like, what's going on? You know, what is my kid missing versus saying and having your kid do that work, which is hard.

    Gentry: Yeah.

    Tiffany: It's hard to hold your kid accountable to do that.

    Gentry: Right, especially when your kid doesn't want to.

    Tiffany: Yeah.

    Gentry: When it's... and not necessarily that they don't want to, but that they're afraid to.

    Tiffany: So how do you help a kid who is afraid to?

    Gentry: Yeah, you can help. You know, a lot of times I help students. It's really easy for me to walk down the hall and ask the teacher, hey, what's so and so missing in class today? What can I help them with tonight? What's a little harder is getting that teenager to come in with me, Hey, we're going to draft an email together. You're going to send this email, but I'll help you write it. I'll help you script it out. Or let's script out what you're going to say tomorrow morning when you walk into the classroom and giving them those tools that then they can use in future situations and allow them to address that and build back that confidence in themselves that, oh, I can do something about this when I'm feeling this way.

    Tiffany: They're not trying to make your life miserable, parents. They're really not. They have something bigger going on and helping you understand how to figure that out and navigate that and help them open up to you about what's really going on, or even just gain insight because they may not even know, right, is going to be an important step as a parent.

    School Refusal Interventions

    Tiffany: Let's now shift gears to the parents, you as a parent. What are they experiencing? Well, actually I want to take it one step back before we get into what they're experiencing. Let's talk about what does the compulsive need for accommodations look like for parents and why do we fall into that as parents?

    Gentry: Number one, you love your child. No one wants to see their kid in distress. That's a natural instinct as human beings, right? Of survival is rescue and take care of and I think especially on mother's parts, right, you want to jump in and take care of your child and there's that shift, especially as they move into adolescence and teenage years of helping them now shift into taking care of themselves and heading out into the real world.

    And so when you're in the middle of that trying to navigate that shift, you know, your kid comes home or calls you from school and is in distress, your natural instinct is going to be to jump in.

    Tiffany: Yeah, and I'll say, as a parent, even sometimes selfishly, it's because I'm uncomfortable when my kids are uncomfortable, and I want this uncomfortability going away, so if I can create an accommodation and jump in and fix it, then it alleviates my anxiety, as well as also being concerned for my kid that I love and don't want them to see struggling.

    Anxiety, Accommodations, and Parental Reaction

    Tiffany: What are some like maybe accommodations that you see parents do?

    Gentry: I think the, you know, parents can step in pretty quickly a lot of times into, oh, my student's having a hard time with this teacher. Let me call a teacher and straighten it out. Or, oh, my student's really struggling with this project. Let me step in and overly help them with that project. My student, you know, is calling me from school, so I'm going to go pick them up.

    And it's like we talked about in the last episode, it's a hard line to walk. How do you know when it's truly, I need to go pick up my student versus my students feeling anxious about something coming up and they need to kind of sit with it and follow through, and that anxiety will go away once they follow through.

    Tiffany: And maybe as a parent, investigate that versus jumping in and fixing.

    Gentry: Right.

    Considering Accommodations and Anxiety

    Tiffany: Yeah, no, that's hard. And I think maybe there's a combination, too, of wanting to switch teachers or switch schools. Those are kind of the big ones we've seen as well.

    Yeah, so it's easy to fall into the need to accommodate your child, especially when they're facing school refusal and anxiety. And I guess recognize that in yourself as a parent as it's normal. It's natural. We all do it. If you have kids you're gonna accommodate. I'm going to raise my hand again and say I'm guilty of it. I have a picky eater at home who I've made lots of mac and cheese for on top of an extra dinner. And it's taken someone else outside of, you know, my inner circle to be like, Tiffany, do you really need to make the mac and cheese? Or do they need to sit with the anxiety of the new food and eat it? And you're going to be okay, Tiffany, even though your kid's uncomfortable. And I'm like, oh, yeah, no, you're right. Like, I am accommodating.

    The Importance of Parental Self-Care

    Tiffany: So as a parent, if you're doing those accommodations, don't beat yourself up. Know that we all do it. Just recognize it. I think that's the challenge is being like, Oh, I'm doing it again. And then making a conscious effort to shift and also sit in the anxiety yourself.

    I think one thing that I see as a therapist with parents is that not always, but generally if they're kids struggling with an issue, sometimes they themselves also struggle with it, with that anxiety. They may have struggled with school refusal and anxiety around things and so parents who maybe are also struggling with anxiety, sometimes it's hard to have the insight that you need as a parent to realize like, Oh, my kid's struggling with the same thing as me, or you may have the insight to realize it, but maybe you don't have the tools of how to redirect them.

    And so, I am kind of jumping ahead, but I think it's important as parents to also do your work.

    The Link Between Parental and Child Struggles

    Tiffany: If you feel like your kid needs to get in therapy, it's often a time I talk to parents and be like, it might also be good to get yourself in therapy. Not always the case, but it's not bad to do kind of like going to see the doctor doing a physical checkup once a year. You know, if your kid's really struggling with something, go also, get yourself checked and say, you know, like, how am I contributing to this, especially if there are a lot of accommodations that you're doing as a parent.

    It's hard work to do that family work like WayPoint does, but it's important work because with the family system, you can fix one person, but if you're not looking at the whole system and how you're contributing to that system, oftentimes, you're going to fall back into those same patterns.

    The Role of Family Support

    Gentry: Yeah and oftentimes, it really does come down to the whole system and how we all fit together and are leading to or helping this refusal issue and these anxieties and how do we play into that. And everybody is going to need their own support and that could be the child, it could be their siblings might need support as one, you know, as the sibling who's really struggling is getting support, other people in the family are also going to need the support. It's a group effort as that student moves forward.

    Tiffany: Well, and sometimes those siblings get overlooked or feel neglected because the one sibling who's really having a big, loud, hard, obvious time, then therefore they may hide what they're struggling with and not reach out, right?

    Gentry: Right.

    Tiffany: Yeah, and well, so this leads into really the next conversation of what are you struggling with as a parent, emotionally and the mental toll that this takes on you? If your teen is struggling with school, going to school and refusing to go, and anxiety, This is going to affect you as a parent in so many ways.

    Gentry: Right.

    Parental Guilt and Shame

    Tiffany: I mean, it's easy to have guilt over this. A lot of shame. This will hit, like, definitely my shame button. You know, if my kids struggling to go to school, worried that you're failing as a parent and then feeding into your own anxieties and fear. What if they don't graduate? What if they don't, you know, do well into adulthood? Like, what does this mean for their future? What else do you think parents are struggling with that you see at WayPoint?

    Gentry: I think you hit a lot of the main feelings of that, oh, looking back, I should have recognized the signs early on. Oh yes, beating yourself up for things that are past tense. And I should have recognized that them calling home in the afternoon, they weren't really sick, that it was this. But in the beginning, why would you think that's where this is coming from as a parent? And, but I think a lot of parents do. They, you know, hindsight is 20/20 and they look back, Oh, I should have recognized this. I could have stepped in here and done this. I should have done this differently. And working through that as a parent must be very difficult and something that needs support. As a parent, you're going to need support to work through those and how do we let that be in the past and move forward with our student and make the changes, recognize the signs as they're coming up now so that we can support moving forward.

    Tiffany: Well, and that circles back to how do you get support as a parent when you're struggling with this? And I'd love to hear your thoughts as well. I think the biggest thing is if you are to the point where your teen is really struggling with school refusal, and it's hitting all the guilt, the shame, the failure, your own anxieties around this, that's a good indicator as a parent that, first of all, recognize you can't do it alone.

    The Power of Parental Support Groups

    Tiffany: And there's so many struggles as parents, especially nowadays in the world we live in, that it's okay that we can't do it alone, that we need to reach out for teachers, counselors at school. And then I'm going to say it, but also reaching out to a therapist, or if you have a support network at home with family, friends that can really help you see a, where you're contributing to this, where you're accommodating, and then how to work through that, oh, your own narrative of, I'm not good enough as a parent. I'm failing. What if my kid doesn't graduate, right? Those are those, I love to say this to my clients, just because you think it, doesn't make it true. I'm going to say it one more time for those who maybe didn't hear me. Just because you think it, doesn't mean it's true.

    So a lot of times we play these scripts in our head that I'm not a good parent. And then we say, Oh, that's reality. And that's the truth, right? But that doesn't necessarily mean that's reality and truth. So helping as a parent to step back and reevaluate your own narrative, your own core beliefs and comparing it to what really is reality will help empower you as a parent to say, you know what? I couldn't have known that my kid was faking being sick because of these things and I didn't have the knowledge then that I have now. So therefore, it's not helpful for me to beat myself up, but what can I do now when my kid calls me? What can I do to empower me now to conquer these problems that are bigger that I couldn't have faced back then alone? Does that make sense what I'm trying to say?

    Overcoming Shame and Asking for Help

    Gentry: Yeah, it's about moving forward and finding the support that you need as a parent. You know, whether that be an individual therapist, family counseling, support groups. I know...

    Tiffany: Yeah, I was going to ask, are there support groups for this?

    Gentry: Yeah, I'm sure in local communities there are support groups. I know one thing that our parents find very valuable is when we have our parent seminar days and where they get to meet other parents whose teens are going through the same things. Their families are going through similar situations and that, you know, sense of belonging and like experiences makes a big difference. Understanding that you're not the only parent going through this. Other parents are as well. You're all trying to navigate the path of where do we go from here.

    The Value of Parent Support Groups

    Tiffany: Yeah, there's such power in realizing that you're not alone in this, because a lot of times these challenges that we face, secrecy is bred... no. Shame is bred in secrecy. So if you're not talking to other parents and you're feeling like, oh, I'm such a bad parent. No one else has other kids struggling with this, like, I'm failing at this versus you find those people within the school system that you're in, maybe you talk to a counselor who's like, can you connect me to other parents who are struggling with this, right? I think that would be a great avenue and then talking to those parents and there's something about having someone there witness your struggle and also realize like oh, they've maybe struggled with it as well That is so healing. It just alleviates part of that burden. It may not fix it It may not take it all away, but it takes off that heaviness that I have to go through this alone, which is so much more shameful and daunting and feels hopeless.

    Gentry: Yes, having someone else there that you can express your feelings to that understand those feelings.

    Tiffany: Who's not going to judge you like, Oh, why did you let your kid come home early, right?

    Gentry: Yeah, cause they've been there. They understand.

    Tiffany: Oh, I got you.

    Gentry: Yeah, you know, teenagers are teenagers and they're difficult and having someone else to bounce ideas off of, commiserate with is very beneficial.

    Tiffany: Yeah, I think finding that support system, whether it's a therapist or that support group or a family member that you can call and be like, you know, mom or your sister or brother, you know, whoever, someone who, you know, what have you done?

    The Strength in Asking for Help

    Tiffany: I have, you know, college friends that we talk frequently and we'll bounce ideas off, you know, we have a bunch of teenagers now and it's like, how did you handle this teenage situation? And that is so helpful to be like, Oh, well, I tried this and well, this didn't work. And I'll be like, Oh, that, that might work with my teen. So that is going to be so important to not do this alone and it's okay to ask for help. That's really hard when you're feeling shame. It feels so vulnerable to be like, I'm struggling. I need help. And oftentimes we see that as weakness. Yet I'm going to argue that that is one of the strongest and bravest things you can do.

    Gentry: I agree.

    Tiffany: As a parent.

    Gentry: As a parent that's starting to recognize that this school refusal is happening and that there's probably an underlying cause going on and you've reached out maybe for individual counseling for your student, is also reach out to your school. There are supports that they can put in place through the special education system or through a 504 plan, IEP to support your student as they're coming back and as they're reintegrating into the school system, gaining their self confidence back, that can then be disseminated to teachers. There can be oftentimes, schools will offer some kind of guidance counseling that can happen within the school day, alternate settings for testing, if needed. So reach out to your school to see what supports are available for your teen, especially for ones reintegrating back in, that have had that history of school refusal.

    Understanding 504 and IEP Plans

    Tiffany: Can you maybe walk our parents through what that looks like? Say they've never had a 504, they don't know what it is, and they don't know what an IEP is. Help explain that for our parents who never heard that.

    Gentry: Right, so the purpose of both is to provide accommodations to your child to access school and be successful at school.

    An IEP is the Individualized Education Plan and so that's going to be where we're really working on specific goals. This has directly impacted their academic success, their ability to access general education. And so goals are going to be put in place with supports and services such as counseling, such as, you know, maybe a study hall support room, direct instruction on executive functioning, and also accommodations that teachers can provide. Maybe it's extended time on assignments. Maybe it's, one of my favorite for students with anxiety is you're gonna turn the assignment in the day It's due no matter where you're at so the teacher can see what progress you've made and then you can go back and finish it for full credit. And that way we're not exasperating the anxiety around this assignment that's not getting turned in and now it's late and I need to get it done but I got new assignments. There's a, we've turned it in once. The teacher understands, okay, they're doing really well with this concept, I might need to help them with this concept. And then they can still have that opportunity to go back. And so that's the main goal, you know, with IEP is what instruction does the child need? What services do they need to access their education and what accommodations and supports can be put into place as we go?

    And so the best person to reach out for for that at your school is your whoever the special education coordinator is or the guidance counselor. They can help direct you to the personnel in the school that can help get those systems in place.

    Tiffany: My understanding is that they start with a 504 and then if they need specific and further accommodations, or not accommodations, but support, then it advances to an IPE. Is that correct?

    Gentry: It doesn't have to be. Sometimes it can. If it's, you know, a 504 around, maybe the hallway is really overwhelming for a student, and so they need an accommodation just to leave class a little bit early, so they can navigate the hallway with less people. You know, a 504 is good for that.

    Tiffany: Other times when we see a student start to have that school refusal, severe anxiety, maybe there's a learning disability going on, we might jump straight to an IEP.

    Gentry: Okay. What's the difference between the two?

    Tiffany: A 504 is there to provide accommodations for your student to meet the general expectations of the other students in the school. So they're expected to do pretty much the same work, the same standards.

    Tiffany: They just may have extended time or say they have ADHD and need, or their autism spectrum disorder, maybe they need noise cancelling headphones, right, or a weighted blanket or a yoga ball to sit on, right. Things like that?

    Gentry: Something like that, yeah.

    Tiffany: Okay.

    Gentry: Versus an IEP is where we really need to delve into specialized instruction. So there, we might be altering the content of something, the way it's delivered. We might be providing direct instruction on social skills, executive functioning skills. So we're altering the instruction for a student in order to access their education.

    Tiffany: Okay, that makes a lot of sense and I personally sat through a 504 and for our school it looked like reaching out to the teacher who then connected me to the special education coordinator and then we had a meeting and we started with a 504 of what accommodations and support my student needed and then once we realized that they actually had like a diagnosis of ADHD, it then moved to an IEP, Individualized Education Plan, and what things needed to be in place to help them be successful based off of that diagnosis. So is that, and again, we had another meeting with both the teacher and the special education coordinator.

    Yeah, another cool thing I didn't realize, but schools can also provide free testing. So if the school refusal is based off of, like, a learning disorder or, you know, something, cognitive functioning, things like that, the school, a lot of schools, you can request, testing to do with your student, which is helpful to figure out, like, again, not just putting that band aid on, but figuring out, like, what's driving this? Is it because they're, you know, having a, they have a learning disorder, and they don't understand what's going on, or they have dyslexia, and therefore, they feel stupid, and they don't feel like they can succeed in school, so it's causing that anxiety, which is driving that school refusal, right?

    Yeah, that was really helpful for me as a parent, but I didn't realize I had that access or resource.

    Gentry: Yeah, one thing to note is that each state is going to be different. Each district is going to have slightly different procedures. And so the biggest thing is reaching out to someone in your school to get the process started.

    And then walking through that process, which sometimes can be lengthy, you know, with testing involved, scheduling meetings, gathering, you know, the school's going to gather data, do observations with your student. The process can be lengthy, but hanging in through that process and continually to advocate for your student.

    Tiffany: Yeah, it makes sense that across state and across school districts, basically that it's just going to vary based off of where you're at.

    I think it's also important to note for our listeners, especially if you come from a school district that's lacking the resources or maybe they're understaffed and overworked and they're really struggling to help you through this process, parents, you have access to what's called educational advocates or educational lawyers that can help you work within your school district to find the resources and the help that you need for your student if, say, it's a difficult process or you just lack those resources within your area.

    Seeking Help from Educational Advocates

    Tiffany: So please know that there is help out there, especially if you're struggling within your school district.

    So, ultimately we want to help parents realize that there's resources, there's support, you're not alone, and there's hope and healing ahead and that you don't have to be stuck in this spiral and this loop and this, you know, never-ending cycle of school refusal that's being driven by something more and you can get down to the bottom of what's driving it to help establish a new pattern of hope and healing and a brighter future for your student and for yourself as a parent.

    So, thank you guys for joining us. In our next episode, we're gonna now be talking about, say that you've exhausted your resources, you've found a therapist, you've talked to your school district, you've gotten the help you need, you're there on an IEP, and it's not helping. They're still struggling with school refusal. You've done all the things we've listed. When should you seek further professional help for this issue and what does that look like and what resources are available.

    So stay tuned. We look forward to meeting with you again and talking about that. Thanks for joining us.

    Additional Resources