School is supposed to be a healthy, enriching environment for your kids. While they are students, they should learn how to learn, be challenged, grow, and have fun. However, for kids with learning differences or a history of trauma or prenatal substance exposure, sometimes school doesn’t feel like a safe space. What do you do when you think school is not working for your child?

Does Any of This Sound Familiar?

Is homework a daily battle?
Does your child balk at getting ready for school every day?
Are you getting behavior notes and emails each week?
Can you sense your child’s frustration or their teacher’s dismay?

It’s disheartening when your otherwise happy child comes home each day feeling sad and stupid. You might feel stuck for answers to these problems. After all, you’ve done everything the school has requested and recommended. There are open lines of communication with the teachers. Testing and evaluations have been completed. IEPs or 504s have been implemented. Still, your child feels frustrated, and you are at the end of your rope.

What Can You Do When School is Not Working?

When raising a child who struggles with learning challenges or behavior issues at school, your first thought shouldn’t be to change their school environment. You should make every effort to coordinate support with the teachers to improve your child’s experience. Sometimes, finding a better fit within the current environment takes a few tries.

But what if none of your efforts – or the school’s – are making a difference for your child? At what point should you consider throwing in the towel and accepting that a change is in everyone’s best interest? It would help to think about a few things when determining your action.

There are benefits to the continuity of sticking with this school.

Many experienced parents will tell you that changing schools – no matter what time of year you choose to do it – is a certified pain in the neck. Even with most documentation online now, there are reams of paperwork and tons of conversations necessary to complete a transfer.

  • Your experiences of knowing the teachers and staff, especially when your family has been in this building (or district) for a long time.
  • You’ve likely learned which teacher(s) will be able to work best with your child.
  • There is a comfort in the familiarity of the teachers and staff knowing your child and your family.
  • Continuing your child’s friendships from year to year is conveniently accessible.
  • You are teaching your kids that your family doesn’t quit or run away from challenges.
  • It’s undeniably more convenient for all your children to be in the same building or district, on the same calendar and daily schedules.

There are additional considerations for some families.

  • How will you manage the costs of private schools?
  • Do other schools offer the interventions that your child needs to succeed? Will you need to arrange and pay privately for those services?
  • Can your family commit to the time and lifestyle of homeschooling?
  • Figuring out your state’s online or virtual charter school options can be overwhelming!

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Treating School Options Like a Buffet

Nothing in parenting can bring you to your knees quicker than navigating school systems for a child with learning challenges. When you are trying to support your child to not just survive their academic years but thrive in this season, you might need to take a different approach than your peers.

Consider schools in your community like you would consider a buffet. Admittedly, it might feel like more work than you’d prefer but try to look around at your options and think about what will serve your child best this year.

Here are a couple of “buffet style” questions you can use as examples:

  • Will you all benefit from a break from the rigor and tension of homeschooling this year? Or this semester?
  • Is there an online charter school that allows your child to shine in the sciences enough to offset their struggle with your home district’s required Language Arts class?
  • Can you craft a different schedule at the high school than the guidance counselors recommend to lighten your student’s load for this year?

Again, transferring your student in and out of multiple schools can mean a lot of paperwork. But when you prioritize your child’s need to feel successful, the paperwork load might be worth it. No one can weigh that out for you, but it is worth considering these questions.

Talk with other experienced parents.

The decision to switch schools – or not – shouldn’t be made lightly. In addition to considering these questions that might help you cobble together a solution, get some wise counsel. Look around for parents in your circles who have had various school experiences. Inquire about their reasons for changing, and pick their brains about their options. Be willing to listen to what worked and what didn’t when finding the right path for their student. Our online community often shares experiences and challenges they’ve faced around school issues if you need a place to connect!

4 Signs That It’s Time to Change Schools

It can be agonizing to figure out when it’s time to leave your current school. In a classic podcast, Dawn Davenport and Heather T. Forbes, LCSW, shared four signs that it’s time for a child with learning differences to change schools. These signs are based on their combined years of experience as parents of kids who struggled with school – and years of taking advantage of the varied options that their communities offered parents and students.

1. Listen to your gut.

Do you dread picking your child up from school? Are you ready to scream every time you get *another* note from their teacher? Is your heart breaking for your child’s struggles on a near-daily basis?

2. Listen to your child.

But don’t just rely on their words. Kids often speak louder with their actions than words – especially if they are struggling or unsure how their words are being received. Please pay attention to their behavior and emotions. Is your child miserable? Do they hate school? Can they hold it together in school but fall completely apart when they get home?

3. Listen to the school.

Are the teachers and administrators willing to work with you to help your child? Does the teacher seem to dislike them or express impatience with their struggles? Is the school open to learning what you’ve done that helps your child? Do they instead try to make your child fit their model of how a student learns? If you’ve had educational testing, do the results accurately reflect your child’s abilities and challenges?

This FREE guide is full of helpful information for families like yours!

4. Put your family first.

Do your child’s school issues interfere significantly with your family life? Does your child have time for after-school play or extracurricular activities? Do homework battles suck the joy out of parenting? Has the tension seeped into your relationship with your child, impacting your ability to enjoy your child’s unique preciousness?

We’d love to hear from you on this issue! What are you facing with your child’s current school experience? How are you handling the situation?

Image Credits: Mikhail Nilov; Keira Burton; RDNE Stock project