Who has more fear about heading back to school, you or your child? If were honest with this question, we find that as parents we become overwhelmed at many different levels. Will my childs teacher(s) understand him or simply react to him? How can I get the school to see my child as a traumatized child, not a defiant child? How am I going to maintain my work if the school keeps calling me like they did last year? What are the afternoons going to be like once homework starts up againOh, goodness!
This article presents four effective strategies discussed that you can use when working to help your child have the best educational experience possible.These include the following:
1. Be an advocate for you child
2. Understand the difficulty of transitions
3. Respond instead of react to the child
4. Create a stressfree classroom
As I was browsing the Internet looking for other ideas that might be incorporated into this list above, I was struck at the nature of the information available on parenting websites. Backtoschool tips included setting your childs clothes out the night before, sending your child off to school with a good breakfast, finding a bedtime that allows your child enough sleep, and reassuring your child that his teacher will support him. While these tips would be effective for many children, I know the reality that parents raising children with trauma histories would express. I did set her clothes out the night before but she got up in the middle of night and cut them up with scissors or I made a complete and balanced breakfast but when my child came into the kitchen he melted down, kicking the furniture and throwing things because he wanted cookies instead or I have a bedtime set but my child cant even begin to settle down at this hour of the evening. And the ultimate statement, I cant reassure my child that her teacher will work with her because her teacher does nothing but focus on the negative behaviors of my child and is resistant to understanding my childs sensitivity to stress.
Website after website on the Internet offers simple parenting tips, yet for children with difficult and severe behaviors, theses tips prove transparent and ineffective. The reason for this is because these tips do not address the core issue underlying severe behaviorsfear. Parenting children with trauma histories requires parents to move to a higher level of parenting and to live at a higher level of consciousness.
1) Be an advocate for your child.
It takes courage to advocate for your child. Fears of being an overbearing or overlysensitive parent can be part of the equation. Coming up against a panel of teachers and administrators who stand strong in what they believe can be intimidating. We also fear getting involved and exposing our childs sensitivities for fear of having our child labeled from the start.
While these fears are valid, the act of advocating for your child is preventive, proactive and can save your child having a negative educational experience. The reality is that your child does have some special needs and he has a right to be understood. Your responsibility as a parent allows you to then approach the school system, staying confident and positive to say, My child needs to be understood. My child has certain areas where he gets stressedout and overwhelmed. He needs us, as a team, to do what we can to prevent a negative experience for him and as we do this, it will allow him to be a success in school. The more positive experiences my child has in the learning environment, the more equipped he will become to handle stress in the future. Im asking for your help in doing this.
2) Understand the difficulty of transitions.
Parents and professionals have a tendency to underestimate the difficulty children with trauma histories have when it comes to transitioning. Transitioning means change and it can mean unpredictabilitytwo items that create tremendous fear in children (and many adults for that matter). Foster children and adopted children, by the nature of this characteristic, have transitional trauma. At one point in their lives (if not many more), they were removed from an environment to which they never returned. Many children have memories of going to school and never coming back home. This can easily explain a childs resistance to getting up in the morning and leaving the home for school. No amount of reassurance from the parent at the cognitive level can overpower this trauma.
If parents can recognize this fear, even the night before school, they have the opportunity to address this fear when there is less stress in the home. The parent can acknowledge the fear by saying,
It can be really scary and difficult leaving the house in the morning. I never realized that last year and I want to be able to help you this year. If I had been taken away at school when I was six years old like you and taken to a new home, Id be so scared, too. It may actually still feel like youre not coming home even now that youre in middle school. Im here this year to help you through this and to support you, son.
Bringing these fears up to the conscious level, honoring them, and validating them, can help a child process through these previous traumatic events. As these memories are processed and understood with the parent, they no longer have the ability to drive the child into a state of complete defiance and resistance.
3) Respond instead of react to your childs behaviors.
Love is a conscious and intentional response; fear is a confused and distorted reaction. It becomes difficult when dealing with school issues to stay mindful enough when our child brings home a low grade to stay in this place of love and responsiveness.
Being able to respond to a child in the classroom can shift a potentially chaotic experience into one that is calm and regulated. Responsive techniques include TimeIn, using nonverbal communication, using gentle and friendly touch, using indirect eye contact when direct eye contact is too stimulating, not demanding an explanation of a negative behavior in the moment, providing understanding, and working to regulate as the adult in the classroom.
4) Reduce stress at school.
In addition to the four tips listed above, there are several other very simple strategies that can help children who become easily overwhelmed at school. These strategies take just a small amount of extra time for teachers; it just takes understanding and staying mindful. The investment in implementing these strategies can be profound for the overall experience not only for the child, but for the entire class. Here they are listed below:
1. Assign a teacher who is calm, regulated, and who is willing to stay attuned to childs needs.
2. Have the child sit next to the teacher or in the front of the classroom.
3. Remove distracting objects from the childs desk.
4. Stay focused on the process when giving the child a directive, not the outcome. This requires staying relationship focused.
5. Keep the child close to an adult when transitioning from one activity to another.
6. Provide a Safe Place within the classroom such as a reading corner where the child can go when he feels overwhelmed.
7. Avoid singling the child out in front of peers; be mindful not to create an experience of rejection (a deep issue for children with trauma histories).
8. Allow the child to wear a locket or carry a picture (or another familiar reminder of his family) that he can use to ground himself when feeling scared or alone.
9. If recess time becomes too stimulating and overwhelming, it may be more beneficial for the child to have quiet time in the library or with the teacher in order to calm his nervous system.
10. If lunchtime is difficult, have the child eat next to an adult or in the classroom. The school cafeteria can be over stimulating and can also be a social challenge for many children (and adults for that matter!).
11. Have the teacher (or parent) breakdown assignments into smaller parts. Instead of an entire project due in one month, perhaps intermediate deadlines can be established to break the project into smaller parts. You wouldnt eat an entire pizza in one bite! So, break it down into manageable slices.
Keep pressing on. Your children are worth it. And keep trusting that as you stay focused on your relationship with your children, being flexible and supportive with their school work, they will be more equipped to learn, more motivated to accomplish, and most importantly, happier in their wellbeing!