Almost nothing is worse for a parent than a child who hates school or a school that is not a good fit for your child. Now that my kids are older and I have a little distance from their younger years, I can honestly say that the hardest parenting challenge that I faced was trying to navigate the school system with a couple of my kiddos. This trial came as close as any to bringing me to my knees.
It felt like the weight of the world or at least the weight of their future success and happiness depended on my handling it correctly. My worries spilled out in my middle-of-the-night-unable-to-sleep journaling:
- How can I help my child get the best education possible?
- What exactly is the best education for this child?
- Will my child make friends and learn social skills?
- Would medication be the magic pill that will make all the problems go away?
- This teacher doesn’t seem to like my kid, but is that reason enough to make a change?
- What the hell should I do about standardized testing that I’m pretty sure my child will not pass?
- Will my child get into college?
- Is college even the best option for my child?
- Is this kid ever going to “succeed” or is she going to be living in my basement and eating out of my fridge for the rest of her life?
- Are my expectations for what the school can do unrealistic?
- Will my child be beaten down by the very system that is suppose to be preparing him for his future.
I remember one overly dramatic late night writing over and over in my journal: “I will not let the school beat the sh_t out of my child.”
The Invisible Legacy of Abuse and Neglect
My family faces learning disabilities (also called learning differences) while other families are dealing with behavioral issues. I’ve come to believe that I am fortunate because my kids’ issues are mostly academic, and no one ever suggested that if they just tried harder or if I parented differently that their problems would go away. Other parents are not so “lucky”.
Many parents, especially if their child experienced abuse, neglect, trauma, or prenatal drug or alcohol exposure, face the problem that the school thinks their child is unwilling to fit into the system or unwilling to behave properly when in fact they are unable. The difference between unwilling and unable is huge. The legacy of trauma becomes the invisible disability.
Put Your Family Relationship Before School Success
Most five year olds love everything about school. The love their teacher, their backpacks and lunch boxes, and their friends. For some kiddos this slowly begins to change. Most kids can only face so much failure before they start feeling stupid and become resistant to school and learning. They turn a 15-minute homework assignment into a 2-hour battle; they drag their feet getting ready to school making everyone late. It’s enough to break your heart. Truthfully, it’s enough to break your spirit.
How to Help a Child Who Hates School
We spent a lot of time on this week’s Creating a Family show talking about how to help a child who is struggling with school. I loved the wisdom of Heather Forbes, author of Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control, and Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approach to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom, on how to handle children who become resistant to school.
Her bottom line is that the family relationships come first. When school and homework become a battle, put your relationship with your child first.
Constantly Reevaluate Your School Options
Heather Forbes and I both bear the battle scars of having fought the school systems for our kids. One thing we both experienced is what I call “taking the buffet approach” to schools. Each year (and sometimes during the year) we evaluated what was best for our kids, and we were willing to switch schools when necessary. We both also homeschooled for a time when that felt right.
I loved this show and I think you will too!
Image credit: Howard County Library System