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David Akiva
David Akiva, BA, MA,
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 167
Experience:  Counselor; Behavioral Consultant
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My 5 year old son, is struggling to settle into school, he

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My 5 year old son, is struggling to settle into school, he started in sept 2011 and for the first 3 weeks was absolutely fine. He then started clinging on to me in the mornings and had to be held so i can get out the door. He struggles and gets quite angry with the staff when they are holding him, but calms down and joins in and has been getting on absolutely fine once ive gone. However since going back after christmas holidays he is not joining in in any of the class, he sits with his head in his hands and will not look up at all, on some days he has sat in the cloakroom all day and refused to do anything, not even moving to go to lunch. He refuses to look or speak to the teachers. I have spoken to him and he says there is nothing wrong and nothing has happened, he just misses me and is sad. As soon as he's out the classroom he is as good as gold and at home he is very well behaved. He is quite a cleaver boy and his teachers say he is one of the brighter boys in the class. The school are fantastic and i know his teacher well so i know she is a brilliant teacher. He never says he doesnt want to go school and is never a problem in the mornings it just starts as soon as we enter the classroom and i have to say goodbye. running out of things to try.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  David Akiva replied 2 years ago.

Duddy :

Welcome, I am a professional counselor a behavioral-consultant....

Duddy :

I'd like to chat with you for a few minutes to better understand the situation and problem you're describing here...

Duddy :

Do you have a few minutes right now?

Duddy :

Your Chat window status says: "Customer Standing By", but you must be doing something else right now. I'll check back here in the chat window in about 15 minutes to see if you've returned.

Customer:

im here

Duddy :

I'm back also. Do you have a few minutes to chat?

Customer:

yes, thanks

Duddy :

For fun, I'd like to start by asking you about your chat name "Customer? What does it mean?

Customer:

My friends call me Noo and the 007 is james bond!

Duddy :

Oh I thought you meant a hybrid of Noonoo the vacuum cleaner from teletubbies and James Bond lol! ....

Duddy :

I'd like to start by getting a clearer sense of your question. You give some strong details of the situation and problem you're describing but not a clear question for me to answer.

Duddy :

There seems to be a major delay in your typing a response are you busy with another task right now?

Customer:

i really just wonder if you have any more ideas on what to do?

Customer:

do you think it is a behaviour problem and we should carry on and ignore or if there could be a more mental problem?

Duddy :

To tell you the truth, I think the best way to get a strong and practical answer for your question would be to get a very clear understanding of what is causing the problem. You say that your son is very smart, that the problem happens only at school. Any other ideas for what might have triggered your son to shut down like that? ....

Duddy :

I don't think there is a psychological problem like childhood depression because the behavior is taking place only at school right?

Customer:

only at school, at home and out he is absolutely fine. A very good little boy.

Duddy :

Have you ever seen this kind of behavior in your son at any other time or in any other setting?

Customer:

I think he is just trying to control the situation because he is not happy about being left at school

Duddy :

When did the problem first start? Was he ok going to school before?

Customer:

He was the same at preschool when i left him but was fine after i left and did eventually did get over it

Customer:

it all started after going back to preschool in september when his best friend had left to start school

Duddy :

What's different about then and now? is it that he doesn't? normalize or participate in class at all or are there times when he does participate?

Duddy :

Are there ever times when he does work and play normally in class or at school or does he literally and completely shut down socially and behaviorally the whole time?

Customer:

He is not participating after i have left, he sits with his arms over his face and refuses to talk or look at anyone. He sometimes will join in but for most of the day he has his hands over his face

Duddy :

That is a major problem. What kinds of activities does he participate in? What is it about those activities that brings him to get involved?

Duddy :

The chat window shows you entering and leaving the chat room several times, were you able to see my last question?

Customer:

he sometimes joins in an activity then other times he wont do the same activity

Duddy :

Would you mind giving me a more precise play by play description of what he does during the day while not being involved with the rest of the class?

Customer:

he will either sit in the classroom with his head on the table or sits in the cloakroom with his head in his hands. The teachers try to coax him into coming to play or do his words or reading and most of the time he just ignores them or sometimes , usually towards the end of the day he will go for a story or to do some drwaing or reading

Duddy :

I've worked as a behavioral consultant for a major school board here in Canada and then as behaviorally oriented in residential treatment settings for a number of years. In my experience....therapist with children and adolescents.I'm concerned that he's spending so much time on his own like that. Does he do anything else besides hold his head in his hands or on his desk?

Customer:

no he just sits or sometimes even stands with his arms up over his face

Customer:

the other day he sat in the cloakroom from 10:30 until 2:45 with his arms over his face and didnt move

Duddy :

I've only seen 1 or 2 instances of a very intelligent child withdraw like that socially but in both cases they would find some play activity no matter how minor to keep themselves occupied. Are you saying that he literally shuts down socially? For how long at a time? How often does that happen?

Customer:

it has been happening now for two weeks

Duddy :

And he's fine at home? Does he play with friends etc?

Customer:

i have been into school three times this week and stayed with him all morning and he has been fine but as soon as i leave he withdraws and refuses to do anything

Duddy :

Are there ever times you leave him with other family members or play dates etc and you leave? If so, how does he typically react?

Customer:

he is fine at home and has an older brother and a younger brother. he plays very happily with other friends and is happy to go to their homes and stay and play as long as he knows them well.

Duddy :

And when you leave it's not a problem?

Customer:

he is happy to stay with grandparents and people he knows well

Customer:

he hasnt actually been left at any friends houses by me but his dad has taken him to friends and left him there but that is with his brother.

Duddy :

How does he and did he get along with other children at school now and prior to that first 3 week period?

Duddy :

May I ask what line of work you're inCustomer

Customer:

He started school with his two best friends from preschool and they all seemed to get on well

Customer:

I am a stay at home mum and have been for the last 9 years

Duddy :

Thank you. I just want to be clear on the friends leaving part. Are you saying they were present during the first 3 weeks when there were no problems and then when they left the social withdrawal started?

Customer:

no his two best friends are still there, they all started together and are still all in the same class

Duddy :

So do you or the teacher have any theories as to what triggered the behavior change?

Duddy :

Sorry, are you still there?

Customer:

We have no ideas.

Customer:

i did expect him to be clingy when i leave him in the mornings but it is more the hands and arms up over his face and refusal to join in that is worrying me now

Duddy :

Sounds like there may be an attachment/separation and a behavioral issue (also known as an attachment behavioral issue).

Customer:

i think that is the issue. I see in him that he finds it genuinely hard to say goodbye to me, he looks very anxious and nervous when it is time to say goodbye but then i think he is stubborn and refuses to join in.

Duddy :

I think that the first step in helping your son with this issue is to do some more detailed teacher friendly behavioral data. I'd be very interested in knowing what it is about certain situations and activities that have him get socially active and connected again.

Duddy :

Data collection sorry.

Duddy :

Once you know what specific situations and "triggers" get him interested and interacting socially you could then work with the teacher to try and get more of those happening when school first starts.

Customer:

we have tried to figure out what brings him out of it but there doesnt seem to be one thing. Something that worked one day didnt work another

Customer:

we have given him his own special seat with lots of starwars activities and pictures which worked one day. we thought he could go there in the morning to sit and calm down but he will not sit down

Customer:

and that now doesnt work.

Customer:

i think it seems to be more the time of day that he decides to join in, maybe because he is fed up of sitting doing nothing by then??

Duddy :

Does the school have a behavioral consultant? Very often the sources of reinforcement are not easy to see. StarWars figures and sticker charts often fade fast as effective reinforcers for very smart kids. There can be very subtle social cues like tone of voice, desired activity, the absence or presence of peers and/or their varied activity levels or levels of participation..and very often a combination of factors that are specifically motivating to a child, particularly if he or she is experiencing separation related feelings.

Duddy :

Yes time of day can be a factor as can mood. But mood in this case seems to be school specific and so environment is important it seems.

Customer:

I dont think they have a behavioral consultant , they have a lady that deals with more speech and learning difficulties and she said she knows of one other child that was similar and the only thing that helped was the mum coming into school

Customer:

i personally dont think this has helped my son as he is fine all morning whilst i am there then withdraws in the afternoon and then doesnt have much time to get out of it.

Duddy :

One strategy that I'm reminded of was using the parent's presence as the reinforcement source. For example, you could use the stickers as token economy. You leave the room and his expectation is to do a specific activity for a short, manageable period of time. He then gets earns stickers and/or a timer goes off and he gets to spend fun time with you. You then gradually increase the time he spends in the school related activities and decrease the time spent having fun with you.

Duddy :

You could go as far as to teach him a few skills streaming social skills and have him follow through on those with the teacher in a planned way to earn points and praise leading to time with you.

Duddy :

In my experience the best corrective even when mild attachment type behaviors are taking place is to get a pattern of healthy social and academic activity growing until it goes by itself.

Duddy :

Are you and the teacher sure there are no other problems like bullying etc?

Customer:

the trouble is if im in school he doesnt leave my side. I tried to go and hang my coat in the staff room this morning and the teacher had to physically hold him so i could just go hang up my coat!

Duddy :

Sadly I can't provide an in person positive behavioral intervention, I can only provide an answer to simple, single questions on this site..but...

Customer:

He has said some boys push and one boy called him a name but really dont think anything serious is going on. He is one of the tallest boys in his class and is quite used to more boisterous children.

Duddy :

I think the real key is real but simple in person data collection and experimenting with different strategies. The skills streaming approach could really be helpful here. That is to teach a specific social skill in a way that's really fun at home and then have him do those skills for the teach at school as soon as you get to school. The active listening skill for a salient reward can be a great way in interfering in the old behavior pattern. You may want to combine this with having another family member who he likes to take him to school. You could also work with the teacher and set it up so that class starts in a different room or in the gym for fun activity, there are so many proven strategies but it all depends on how the environment is shaping and maintaining his behavior in the moment....

Duddy :

You might also consider working with a board certified behavior analyst in your area to help you but together a real positive behavioral intervention.

Duddy :

So I guess my final answer here includes the fact that I can't provide a specific answer but only a general one today. I think that there are ways of intervening and supporting your son to get back to his old more healthy pattern at school, but that it will likely require some skilled observation and intervention....

Duddy :

What are your thoughts?

Duddy :

Let me get you some links that I think may help out....

Duddy :

This is applied behavior analysis http://www.bacb.com/index.php?page=2

Duddy :

There several BCBAs in the UK: http://www.bacb.com/index.php?page=100155

Customer:

Thank you, XXXXX XXXXX you are right that he has seperation issues and then this turns into a behavioural issue. I guess we will just have to keep trying different things to get him involved and hopefully he will eventually become more more at ease in school. thanks for your time and the links

Duddy :

I think calling around to find a BCBA in the UK who is familiar with attachment behaivoral issues as I'm sure they would mostly be in the UK given the psychodynamic prevalence there would be a great way to generate strategies and to get behavior observation tools and specific suggestions very cost effectively and tailored to your son's needs.

Duddy :

Is there anything else I can answer for you here today?

Customer:

No thank you.

Duddy :

You're very welcome and I wish you and your son the very best. Please don't forget to press the green accept button so that I'm compensated for my time with you today. If you don't mind leaving some feedback when prompted during payment, that would be greatly appreciated too.

David Akiva, BA, MA,
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 167
Experience: Counselor; Behavioral Consultant
David Akiva and other Mental Health Specialists are ready to help you

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