There is almost nothing more challenging about parenting during the school-age years than a child who hates school. When the school is not a good fit for your child, it colors almost everything about daily life together. Navigating the school system with a child who has learning challenges, a history of exposure to trauma, or prenatal exposures can be overwhelming, defeating, and exhausting to the bone. When you have a child who hates school, you feel the weight of their future world is squarely on your shoulders. Your worries keep you up at night, and trust us when we say that you are not alone in your anxiety!
Middle of the Night Worries
- How will I help my child get the best education possible?
- What exactly is the best education for this child?
- Will my child ever make friends and learn social skills?
- Would medication be the magic pill that will make all these problems disappear?
- Is it just me, or does this teacher seem not to like my kid? Does this mean I need to change the classroom assignment?
- What should I do about standardized testing? Even if this kid can sit for the testing period, I’m pretty sure my child will not pass any of them!
- Will my child get into college? Is college even the best option for my child? Should I start researching trade schools?
- Is my child ever going to launch successfully to adulthood? Will she be living in my basement and eating out of my fridge for the rest of her life?
- What is a realistic expectation for this child’s ability to support himself?
- And speaking of being realistic — am I being unrealistic about what I expect the school to do to support my child?
- Will my child be beaten down by the system that is supposed to prepare him for his future? Will I make it through his school experience?
Do a Brain Dump in Your Journal
Do these spiraling worries sound familiar? What do you do when the fear and worry about your child’s fear, anxiety, and utter distaste for school take over your brain? One helpful tool for managing this level of stress and anxiety in our parenting hearts is to journal.
Write it all out – brainstorm fashion, and don’t censor yourself.
Then put it away until you are in a better mental space and re-read what you wrote. Were your fears realistic? Take them one by one and journal some answers to the questions you were spewing. Apply truth to those which were lies or fear-based exaggerations.
For example, “Yes, my child will launch successfully into adulthood – he might not go to college, but he will find the path that is right for him. We will support him as he learns and grows into that niche.”
Identify in your journal which of your spiraling worries are unrealistic and respond with a more realistic, “light of day” thought.
For example, it’s unrealistic to assume that your child will be living in your basement forever, eating your food every day for the rest of your life or his. He’s only eight and just had a rough third-grade week in 3rd grade.
Instead, tell yourself that if someday your child is unable to live independently – for whatever reason – you will teach him the life skills he needs to shop for his own food and make his meals. But right now, he’s only in 3rd grade, and sometimes third-graders regress. Sometimes, we all regress!
The Legacy of Trauma is an Invisible Disability
Some families face a range of learning differences or disabilities. Other families are dealing with behavioral challenges. Frankly, when you have a child who struggles academically, it’s rarely implied that if you just tried harder or parented differently, your child’s academic challenges would disappear. Parents who are managing behavioral issues are not quite that lucky.
Many parents of a child who has experienced abuse, neglect, trauma, or prenatal exposure will face judgment, resistance, and lack of compassion from the child’s educational team. Teachers and educational intervention specialists might assume your child is unwilling to fit into the system or unwilling to behave appropriately. The fact is that your child might be unable to conform to the expectations of the classroom.
Parents raising children exposed to trauma understand that the difference between unwilling and unable is enormous. However, a teacher might not know that yet and instead assume that your parenting is lacking or too soft. The legacy of our children’s trauma becomes an invisible disability that is disheartening for us and demoralizing for our kids.
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Prioritize Your Family Relationship Over School Success
Most five-year-olds love everything about school. They love their teachers, backpacks, lunch boxes, and friends. For many kids, this changes as they experience increasing frustration, failure, or challenges in the classroom.
After all, a child can only face so much failure before they start feeling stupid and incapable. You can see her becoming resistant to school and learning. He turns a 15-minute homework assignment into a 2-hour battle. He drags his feet getting ready for school, starting the day with so much dysregulation and making everyone late. It’s enough to break your heart. Truthfully, it’s enough to break your spirit – you know they are feeling the same way.
When you face these levels of brokenness and stress around your child’s school experience, it’s time to bottom-line it for yourselves. Family relationships come first. Attachment and connection are the priority, and helping your child feel safe with you and in your home is at the top of your list.
How Do You Do That?
Practically speaking, the first thing you can do to implement this priority of Family First is to contact the school and let them know you are struggling. Outline your game plan for them. Here are a couple of suggestions for what to consider in your game plan:
- We won’t be doing homework for the rest of this marking period.
- When he gets home from school, we are going to (take a nap, ride bikes, play with Legos, whatever refuels you both).
- Please don’t mark his behavior on any charts. You can send me an email if we should address a specific behavior. Otherwise, don’t include him in the clip chart system.
- Can we arrange some additional support for math class for the rest of this marking period? We won’t be doing math homework anymore. It’s far too stressful for us both.
Find out what you both need to reduce your child’s anxiety about school and do it! Make home a safe space by implementing your plans in a predictable, consistent routine. Spend your time together playing games, listening to his favorite music, or baking. Focus on connection with the precious spirit that his perceived classroom failures trampled.
Be Willing to Re-Evaluate Your School Options
Experienced parents who bear battle scars from fighting the school systems for their kids will tell you that you have many options for a healthy school experience.
One suggestion is to evaluate yearly what the options are where you live. What do the various schools around you offer that will benefit your child? What would be a “red flag” in the public school but maybe manageable in the charter school down the road? How can you cobble together the best option this year for this child? Sometimes, you will have to re-evaluate mid-year, and that is okay. Release yourself from the expectation that your child must finish the year where he started.
The options for schooling have increased dramatically in recent years, and online instruction is another valid consideration. There are also great resources for homeschooling – you don’t have to be a certified teacher to supervise your child’s education adequately! Check your state regulations to get a complete sense of requirements and resources.
Championing Your Child Builds Life Skills
School challenges can be all-encompassing and threaten to take over our lives. However, we can shore up our child’s life skills when we work with her to identify the issues and plan to tackle them together. We will send our kids affirming messages of our family values, her inherent preciousness, and value in the family when we come alongside her to do so. What more attaching and connecting practice can you offer your child than telling her you are with her in this and that you will always have her best interest in mind as you parent her?!