Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Back to School Success

defiant boy 

Q: My son is an angel at school but a terror at home. He was even student of the month last school year. But when he gets home, our home is absolute chaos and he is just nasty to me.
A: Many children work to be 'normal' all day long at school so when they get home, they are exhausted. The result is they collapse into negative behaviors. When they are stressed at school, they hold it together all day long and then in their 'unwinding' of the day, they become "terrors."
Due to early experiences of trauma, children can become sensitive to environmental stressors. Their regulatory systems have been compromised and they have difficulty remaining calm and behaved when faced with the challenges of a school setting.

Additionally, children become fragmented and split between home and school. Many parents report that they literally have two different children in these two different environments. This fragmentation is not healthy to the child's overall development of the self so it is important that this be addressed effectively for the child.
When we look at the dynamic of the school setting, consider the energy it takes for your child to maintain appropriate behaviors at school is far greater than the average student. He may look well put together externally, but internally, he is running at high speed to ensure he becomes the perfect student. Thus, when he gets home, it is as if he has run a marathon; he is exhausted, unable to hold it together anymore.

In order to create more balance for your child, consider ways to reduce some of the major stressors he experiences at school:

  • Social stress - Peer interactions are exceptionally stressful, especially for children who function at a lower emotional level than their peers. Some children may need less social time and more time-in with a regulated adult at the school.
  • Transitioning from one activity to another - Transitions such as going from the playground to the classroom, from art to P.E., and from the cafeteria to the classroom, are difficult for many children. Many of the traumatic experiences of children happened around transition, so they are going to be sensitive in this area and may need additional support.
  • After school care - Staying at school for an additional hour or two is stressful after a full day of school. Children just need to go home after school. After-school care is typically less structured and less predictable, which is a horrible combination for a child who is already stressed out by this time of the day.
  • Teachers - The type of teacher your child has can determine the entire outcome of the child's school year, both positively and negatively. A calm, regulated teacher, who has control of the classroom, well-established boundaries, and reasonable expectations for your child will help your child maintain his own level of regulation during the school day.
  • Riding the school bus - If your child is sensitive to loud environments and chaotic social situations, the school bus is not an option. He needs you to take him to school and pick him up from school. Helping your child transition from home to school through a peaceful car ride can set your child up for a successful day. Remember that the number one responsibility you have as a parent is to drop your child off at school as regulated and calm as possible. This gives him at least a fighting chance and a larger window of stress tolerance as he faces a stressful day.
  • Stress-inducing requirements - Alternatives that reduce stress instead of increase stress need to be explored and established for your child either through a 504 Plan or an IEP (Individualized Educational Program). Many times it is the small things that can make a huge impact. For example, timed testing can completely throw a child into a stress reaction, impacting your child’s ability to think clearly, and should be avoided.
    Also, just the thought of coming home and doing homework for many children creates a stress reaction. Some families have been able to write into the child's IEP that homework will not be required because it creates too much chaos in the home.
Another major point to consider is that your child's relationships at school are very different from his relationships at home. School relationships are indiscriminate. They don't require close connection, thus they are safer. Close relationships, like parent-child relationships, require intimacy which requires vulnerability. For children with traumatic histories, their trauma happened in the context of close relationships. This sets your child up to be in fear of connection of you, not with the milkman or of teachers, but of you, the person closest to him.
As you are able to parent within a love-based framework, you are establishing an environment that decreases the threat of this relationship. If you need more examples of how to parent in a loving way while still maintaining rules and boundaries in your home, see my Q&A book, "Dare to Love." Real examples of how to apply the Beyond Consequences principles are given throughout the entire book.

I also encourage you, as the parent, to check in with yourself. Determine how you are feeling and what messages are swirling around in your mind. It's easy to get into a framework that says to your child, "If you can behave for your teacher at school, then my gosh, I'm your parent...you can certainly behave for me!"

It's very easy to take it personally and to interpret your child's negative behavior as an attack on you. As a parent, you are working so hard as to help your child, to heal them, and to love him/her. Yet, the reality is that they don't know what to do with the stress from school and they are still living in fear of connection with you. The struggle is not with you; it is with themselves. Continue to go beyond the obvious and reach to the core of the issue---fear and stress.

Press on,

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW

Check out our 48 hour Back to School Sale by clicking here.


Christie M said...

I needed to read this tonight!
We have finished 3 weeks of school.
Our daughter has a rather large scar on her forehead caused by severe abuse in Russia. A boy at school has been taunting her saying "You look like "Frankenstein". She is a beautiful girl and she has a scar.
We rocked the other day and talked about it, and about what she could do to deal with it.
She went to her counselor today, but the counselor was not available. UGH
So, she came home, on a Friday, without it resolved.
Of course tonight, was a time to relax and rid herself of the stressors of the week.
She had a melt down. Not terrible. But one indeed.
And when I went in to see if she was ok, she said, "I know you don't trust me and you think I look like Frankenstein!"
These are raw feelings....
I told her... Mom and Dad love you. We would love for you to join us for movie night. If you don't that is ok. But you are welcome.
She said she was running away and never coming back.
She walked out the door, and then, 5 minutes later was back inside and watched the movie from the dining room. :)
She went to bed with out talking, but I'm sure we'll have the weekend for that.
I hate it that a ridiculous comment can have such a detrimental effect.
She is also trying really hard to maintain good grades and standards.
But all day long she is hearing the F bomb and other words, and she dropped that one on us tonight.
It is a word. It expresses strong emotion.... but it isn't her. I get that..
But wow. She is our 8th child and we have never heard that from any of our other children.
I'm not sure if I should rejoice or be in shock. LOL
I just know I'm up late at night writing on your blog! LOL

Heather said...

Hi Heather! My name is Heather and I was wondering if you would be willing to answer my question about your blog! My email is Lifesabanquet1 AT gmail DOT com :-) I greatly appreciate it!