What About School?

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We work with difficult children. As a parent of a child with attachment problems, the question of "what to do about school" is an interesting dilemma.

Why do you want the child to be in school? Answered honestly, there may be a tiny bit of a reason that has to do with, "Then he/she will be out of my hair for a few hours." This may be a debatable motivation, but it is at least approaching a good reason: taking care of yourself, and getting some "space." But, teachers and school should never be viewed as "glorified babysitters." They resent this, and rightfully so.

There is an extremely important therapeutic reason for sending the child to school. Performance in school can be an indicator of how this child will be able to function in a community.

If public school is not working out, how about trying a private school? Perhaps, in some cases, that would be a better situation for a child with attachment problems. There are often smaller classes and more individual attention.

Before committing to a school, make sure it's system has teachers who have had experience with extremely difficult children. Is there an E.B.D. (Educational Behavior Disorder) program if needed? Do they have a process that includes an I.E.P. (Individual Educational Plan) if required? We switched to public schools, after trying private ones, and have found that if handled properly, the relationship with a public school can be very beneficial.

Either way, private or especially public, here are a few hints to making it work. First and foremost, ask to meet with the teacher and principal before the school year begins, or when you are bringing the child in. During this meeting, be HONEST and SPECIFIC. Let the teacher know some of the behavioral patterns that have caused school problems in the past. Teachers also appreciate hearing what has worked and not worked before in terms of controlling inappropriate behavior. It is also helpful to let them know how you deal with a specific behavior. Teachers are practical, and want to feel like they can make it through their day. If you are an ally in this, you are thought of highly.

In this initial meeting, you should also BE WILLING TO VOLUNTEER to help with classroom activities. "Is there a time when I could come in and help to give you a breather - say doing playground duty or monitoring hallways, so you can sit down for a while?" This kind of support goes a long way. In addition to volunteering, BE RESPONSIVE. If at all possible, when asked, try to help out. Field trips are not all that horrible. Besides, it gives you a chance to talk to other parents and teachers and build important

After you've had your meeting, and the school year has started, there will be a myriad of "What If's." Here are three:

WHAT IF YOU ARE NOT HEARING MUCH AND YOU SUSPECT IT'S NOT REALLY GOING THAT WELL?

At a bare minimum, you need to check in once a week. "Have you experienced any of the potential problems we talked about in that meeting?" "Has it worked to limit Matt to 5 questions each day?" (Note: It's not, "How has Chad's week been?" You are more interested in how the teacher is feeling and doing.) Allies need to communicate - be intentional about this.

WHAT IF HE/SHE BLOWS OUT COMPLETELY AT SCHOOL?

First, assess the damage. Don't be afraid to suggest to the teacher and administration, "You know, John doesn't seem to be taking advantage of school right now. Perhaps I should keep him home for a few days so he can think about it and do some work for me (washing walls, cleaning garages, etc., etc.) Maybe after a couple of days, he will be able to remember what a privilege school is." Work out the details with the teacher and given them a break from the child. In the "olden days," school was a privilege, and only well behaved children were allowed to attend.

WHAT IF THE CHILD DOESN'T PERFORM ACADEMICALLY?

This is one of those control battles that is extremely difficult to win. Therefore, the best strategy is to stay out of it. To feel like a good parent, provide a quiet time for homework and be available to help if you can, but allow the child to experience the natural consequence of not performing. Stop rescuing the master manipulator. Don't hesitate to use the time tested line, "Honey, you know what's nice about the fourth grade? They offer it every year."

School is, and isn't, an important issue. To stay in a classroom for an entire school year does wonders for the self image of a child with attachment disorder. It indicates that he/she can make it in a community. Academic performance is not the leading indicator of success in life. It can help, but it is not the most important issue - especially with attachment problems. FLUNKING LIFE IS MORE SERIOUS THAN FLUNKING THIRD GRADE.

School can be a wonderful experience for your child and you. Be intentional about making it work!

Credits: Gary Flanders, Therapeutic Foster Parent

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