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Discipline and the depressed/anxious tween

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

OK, I'm not sure which of three places to put this so I'll start here.  Mods -- please move if you think it should be elsewhere (I could see special needs or GD as possible options, or even Learning at School).


DS is soon to be 12 (about 2 weeks from now).  He has some issues with depression and anxiety and currently takes Zoloft and sees a counselor.  He started middle school last week and I was so hoping that a new school would result in new habits, but alas we are already haunted by his pattern of not doing his schoolwork and then lying about it.    Its especially annoying because he's smart and can certainly do the work.  And this year's homework load is much much lighter than last year.  This simply cannot continue.  I know that some people don't think homework is good but he is no longer a small child.  Middle school work and grades start to mean something.  And starting on the wrong foot with new teachers and a new school seems like exactly the wrong thing to do.


Last year we mostly talked about the impact of this and were very strict about checking his assignment notebook and his work.  But that only worked if he wrote down the assignments, which he didn't already do.  Plus he suffered the natural consequences of a poor-for-him grade due to last/missing homework.  He clearly feels guilty about this after the fact, but doesn't seem to realize he needs to think about it before the fact.


I feel like I need to up the consequences.  But I am also aware of not wanting to do anything that will isolate him from the family or set off an anxiety attack.  If I, say, ban TV then he ends up sitting in his room alone (because little sister is watching TV in the living room) and I worry about his mental health.  I could remove his Nintendo DS for a set time but am not sure that would have any impact since he isn't playing much at the moment anyway.  He doesn't do anything that I can "ground" him from.  And even if he did, he desperately needs to make new friends so I wouldn't want to do that anyway. 


Anyone have any suggestions?  Am I over thinking this?  Under thinking it?  Over reacting?  I'm so confused about priorities and appropriateness of anything right now.

post #2 of 7

Wow, this was so us in 6th and 7th grade. I wish I had more advice for you, but we really never found an ideal solution in school. I too struggled with imposing consequences that didn't isolate her from us or from friends (she had only a few and needed to be encouraged to do anything social).

The only thing I found some success with regarding helping her keep up with her work was contacting her teachers and making sure we stayed updated with them on a very regular basis, both so I could get the work she was supposed to be doing (but wasn't writing down) and so I could get clued in right away when she was falling behind due to forgetting to turn in work she had already done. This was easier because most of her teachers maintained a website with calendar where they wrote in the day's assignments. So I could ask DD if she'd done her math, and if she said "We didn't have homework today," I could check online and see if that was the case. And I needed to actively ask her to show me all her work every day, which was a pain for both of us and upsetting to her because she felt pressured and under a microscope. By utilizing those things, we managed to get through 6th and 7th with ok grades (before 6th, she always pulled straight As, so she felt even more depressed by not doing that anymore).


Two things changed this year. First, a therapist we were seeing for her anxiety issues diagnosed her with the inattentive form of ADD. She had always had symptoms but because the elem years were not a challenge academically, the issues didn't surface until middle school. That helped us to put a face on why she was not able to focus in class to get and turn in assignments, and why going from class to class with different teachers all day was difficult and stressful for her.

Second, we decided to homeschool her this year (8th grade). That might not be for you, so I'm not suggesting it as a solution -- just telling you what we did. Most of DD's anxiety was around school, schoolwork and social stuff, and making the decision to take her out of that environment made a huge difference in her mental state. She is happy, relaxed, eating and sleeping normally, and has stopped needing to see her therapist. She's still doing similar curriculum to what she'd be doing in public school, but I give her the assignments every day so I know it's being done. We can tailor things to help her focus, and so far she's retaining a lot more of what she's learning (we realized over the summer that although her grades were ok over the last two years, nearly everything she learned just didn't stick with her because of the stress and anxiety she was under).


As I said, I'm sorry I don't have more concrete advice, but I really feel you. I don't think you're overthinking it - it can really be hard to set consequences for kids who are already depressed and anxious. I hope the counselor can help you find the solution that's right for your family.

post #3 of 7

I don't think that you're overthinking this because homework is a responsibility in middle school.  I do think that if there is behavior that doesn't really make sense, and the behavior is not resulting in anything positive for your ds, ie not turning in homework, it's worth exploring why this pattern is happening.  As the pp said, this is often seen with kids with executive function issues, ADD, etc.  Do you think it's worth exploring that idea at all? Or perhaps you've done it already.  I would just try to get at the "why" of the behavior, if it's possible before looking at consequences at home.


Someone told me that if a child is going to struggle, or fail, middle school is a better place to have that happen than HS, when more is focused on your permanent record.  Middle school, it seems to me, is partially about learning, making mistakes, having to assume responsibilty and consequences, and gaining needed skills.



post #4 of 7

I'd start by talking to his counselor and seeing if she can be helpful in some way. I'd also check directly with the school and find out if there is a way to double check what homework he has.


I'd also check into whether or not this is related to his other issues, and if so, if he qualifies for a 504 Plan. Part of my DD's 504 plan provided for more extensive communication between me and her teachers, extra time for homework (so if she didn't understand the assignment, she could take it into the special education teacher and have it explained, and turn it in late without any penalty).


We've homeschooled DD, had her in a traditional school, and currently she attends an alternative school. It's the best thing for her. Homeschooling was extremely isolating for her and she had ZERO motivation to do anything, and while the public school she attended tried hard to work with her, she was always a square peg in a round hole. Her current school has tiny classes, lots of choice, free periods, and almost no homework.

post #5 of 7
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the replies.  At least I don't feel quite so alone!  I know he is going through lots of transitions (which he has never done well with).  He is switching from a tiny private school (where small classes were a disaster because if you don't fit with the other 4 boys live is hard) to a large public middle school.  He is used to moving from class to class and teacher to teacher, though.  While my DD has ADHD there has never been any suggestion of ADD with DS, though I will ask his therapist to see if he has any thoughts on that.  His therapist is very pro-private-alternative school, which is nice in that he would fit very well here but his answer to school issues so far has mostly been "change schools to our nice Waldorf school".  While I love that he isn't into forcing fitting into a traditional school, Waldorf doesn't work for us for other reasons.  And home schooling is out as I am not at home during the day.  And I would really worry about him becoming a hermit if we took him out of a classroom full of other kids! 


His teacher was great -- she emailed after the second time she realized he hadn't done the homework, so I do feel good that communication with his homeroom teacher will be great.  The school does in theory have a website where teachers are supposed to post but most of what is there is at least a year old, so I guess they don't use it much.  I think I will ask/request that they are better about posting during next week's back to school night.


I love MDC because at least I can get my thoughts out and sort of organized!  And its always nice to know that you aren't alone and your kid isn't completely strange.

post #6 of 7

There are two books that might interest you:  The Organized Student, which I have, and like for it's practicality, and Smart But Scattered, which I don't have, but might be worth a look.  They are both on Amazon right now.


FWIW, ADD/ADHD can look very different from kid to kid, and from boys to girls.

post #7 of 7

Do you have any charter schools in your area? Many of them don't go by traditional grading systems and the teachers make sure the kids write down their homework assignments. My youngest DD 10 has never been to good at homework or anything involving short term memory (although her long term memory is epic), but the teachers always initial the daily log to make sure they write things down, and then the parents initial when it's done, and that system has worked very well for us. DD goes to a school with co-teachers, so the class size is the same but with twice the capacity to check over student work. 1:16 enables a lot more communication between parents and teachers.


Maybe you should consider not removing TV privileges entirely, but making them contingent upon homework. Like, for however long he spends doing homework, he gains that much screen time. For my kids, sometimes I give them a bonus, where if they read "overtime" (more than they are required to), they earn time and a half screen time (kind of like a dead-end job ;), and that motivates them. I suspect DD 10 has ADHD, but I'm not pushing for a diagnosis or anything, I don't condone medical intervention in her case, so a rewards system works great for her. In our household, everything is earned, and everyone does their fair share. That's not to say there's no complaining, but the system usually works.

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