Understanding Back to School Issues

Winter Break is over. The decorations have all been packed up and stored away until next year (unless you live at my house). The relatives have all gone home and the leftovers have all been eaten. So it’s time to go back to school. Nothing puts fear into the heart of a RAD kiddo more. Well maybe there is something but this one is high on the list. And this can be full of problems so understanding back to school issues is essential to make this re-entry as smooth as possible.

When August was in third grade, his re-entry after winter break was gruesome. There was no other way to put it. He was confrontational and distracted and he didn’t do any work. He was agitated all the time and he got into trouble daily it seemed. After about three weeks of daily disasters, we scheduled a meeting with his teacher. I’d already become disillusioned with his teacher. She didn’t seem willing to be at all flexible. Some of her methods were down right absurd. Like posting the students scores for reading tests in order like a competition. Like using a cardboard display board around August’s desk to block him from other students so he couldn’t be distracted or distract them (no, not singling him out at all).

So we go into the meeting and we are prepared to hear what has been going on the first few weeks of school. She talks about how disruptive he’s been. How unwilling to do his work. Nothing we didn’t know. Being more informed now about reactive attachment disorder, I am able to talk through some of what I now know about lack of impulse control and what we are working on with adjusting his medications and how we are still learning about what works with him and what doesn’t.

Then it happens. The thing that brings out the mama bear in me and almost makes me jump across the tiny library table. She asks if we’d ever considered home-schooling August. I say we’ve considered a variety of options, that this is all relatively new and we’re going to maybe be making a change for next year. Her reply still rings in my ears. “You don’t have to wait until next year.” This woman who is charged with caring for and teaching my sweet, adorable, damaged boy wants him gone. I was furious.

And yes, I did have a conversation with the principal.

If this story sounds at all familiar, it will pass. But now, while it’s still early, you might want to have the conversation with your kiddo’s teacher about re-entry. Let them know what they’re seeing and why. And also talk with your kiddo. They may not understand why they’re having so much trouble. Talk with your child’s therapist about ideas for handling the re-entry issues. Maybe a short-term bump in medication would help. While I’m not an advocate for over-medicating, I am an advocate for making sure our kiddos don’t have to endure any more hardships than absolutely necessary. You can always back off when things settle down. Because there are other kiddos in school that are hyped up too. Sharing stories of what they all did over break; all the new clothes and toys and video games. There may be new classes to adjust to as well.

Here is a good article about helping to adjust after the holidays. It’s not much different than getting back in gear after summer! Hopefully you all had a great Holiday and the kiddos are well settled back into school. Comment with any tips or tricks that have worked for you!

Until next time,

Shannon

Handling Report Card News

Handling report card news was always a tense time in our house. Sometimes the results were going to be obvious based on behavior and activity I had seen during the quarter. Sometimes he was dancing on the edge and it was more of an unknown. But it might lead to a conversation that neither of us wanted to have.

August was not a great student. Let me rephrase that. He did well early on. Elementary school was good because he enjoyed school and was still interested in learning. There were enough other classes plus recess to provide the variety his ADHD needed to keep him stimulated. But starting with middle school, the wheels fell off. The temptations of cell phones and students who also weren’t interested in school began.

By the time he was into his teenage years he couldn’t care less about the value of an education. And that was reflected in his school work and his attendance at school at all. I was racing the clock to see if I could get him graduated before he turned 18. We tried private school designed for behaviorally challenged students. He got kicked out. He moved with me and enrolled in a new public school. Disaster. The plan was to try the alternative high school but he turned 18 and I’d lost the fight.

He’s had a couple chances during his multiples stints in jail to get his GED but he has yet to agree that getting even his high school diploma would be useful. And that’s now that he will be in the world with so many more strikes against him. Maybe as he matures his opinion will change. I continue to hope.

Now it’s not every child with reactive attachment disorder who has trouble in school. But there is a better than average connection between RAD and school problems. Behavior issues at school and at home will certainly get in the way of successful learning. But how can you help your child make that connection to what shows up on the report card?

Here are a few ideas on how to handle report card news with your RAD kiddo to make it less confrontational.

  • Praise the Positives: Find something good wherever you can. If your child is not doing well in core subjects but is great in PE or art, celebrate that! Yes, it would be better if they were getting those good grades in Math and English. But starting with the positive sets a good tone for the rest.
  • Make sure it’s a conversation, not a speech: Remember that your RAD kiddo is a control freak? A two-way conversation about the report card will have a much better outcome than you coming at them with, “What happened here!?!” You will certainly learn more and you may learn things you didn’t know (remember, from your great relationship with the teachers we set up at the beginning of the year?)
  • Emphasize progress and proficiency, not perfection: If you were a straight A student, good for you. But your child may not ever be. However, if they went from a C- to a C, do a dance!
  • Set a meeting with the teacher: If things really seem to have gone off the rails, then you need to hear first-hand what’s going on. And definitely include your child if it is appropriate. Also IEP team and any others that may need to be involved. Make sure your RAD kiddo knows that it’s not because they’ve done anything wrong but because you want to make sure everything is being done to make sure they’re able to be as successful as possible.

I think report cards are a great time to take a breath and reset the education clock. When the days are crazy and it’s hard to keep track of how things are going this will give you both a chance to talk and celebrate and make plans. So make sure there’s the celebration part! To help with that, here are some great ideas!

Until next time,

Shannon

When you get “that” phone call…

It took about two weeks most years for me to have the phone number of August’s school memorized so that when it appeared on my phone I knew who was calling. And you all know that feeling. You may be shopping, working, at the gym, anywhere when you get “that” phone call. And your breath gets tight and your skin crawls and you think just a bit about whether or not to answer. Right?

I confess, I have not answered more than once. Just to have a couple minutes to collect myself. And then called back and apologized. Because I just couldn’t get hit with whatever “it” is. Maybe I’d go sit in my car if I was somewhere in public, just in case. But I didn’t want to be blindsided always by whatever was on the other side of that phone.

So what could happen when you get “that” phone call? Well it could be anything like the simple, “Your child forgot their lunch” or, “Your child isn’t feeling well.” But with our RAD kiddos there is an equal likelihood that it’s something way more complicated. With August it was the interesting things he chose to bring to school like the pocket knife and the water bottle full of vodka. Or the behaviors like looking in the women’s restroom or run-of-the-mill anger. Then there were some bigger issues like the stolen cell phone or when he ran away from the residential treatment center.

So what do you do when you get “that” phone call? I think there were days when we immediately would have sided with our child and blamed the teacher. Or sided with the teacher and blamed the child. But those of us with RAD kiddos know that nothing with our children is that clear cut. Ideally, you have established a close relationship with your child’s teachers so that when situations occur, communication is easy. And hopefully, your child’s teachers have an understanding of their behavior and can put the incident in that context.

The key here is this is where all your work at the beginning of the school year pays off. And if it hasn’t been done yet, now is the time to get it done. For example, I was working as a substitute teacher a couple of weeks ago in a high school social studies class. There was a student who was giving me a lot of back talk from the moment I walked in. Now I’m not saying he was a RAD kiddo, but he did remind me a lot of August. This kept up until he asked to go to the bathroom. I said yes at which point he took all his books and left. I asked the class if he was coming back and they said probably not so I notified the Dean who let me know later they had him.

At the end of the day he came back to the room and apologized. He said he knew he wasn’t doing well so he left. He apparently has medication that he takes and he knew he needed some. I told him I understood and that I had a son very much like him. What I wish I’d been able to suggest but couldn’t is why didn’t he have a behavior plan that gave him the opportunity to leave without the chance of getting into trouble. The class knew him as a trouble-maker. There was no information from the teacher. He didn’t have any “out” to help him. I was pleased he knew himself enough to remove himself from the situation but I wish he had some support to make it easier for him.

Hopefully when you get “that” phone call you will already have the relationship that will allow you to process whatever prompted the call in the context of RAD and your child’s unique behaviors. If not, consider this your open door. One of the reasons we moved August between third and fourth grades was that he was labeled in his prior school by a teacher who wouldn’t work with us. Getting teachers informed and knowledgeable about RAD generally and your child specifically is critical to a successful partnership in handling behavior.

Of utmost importance is for the teacher to understand that you know RAD doesn’t excuse your child’s behaviors; it explains them. And you’re not using this illness to let your child get away with anything. Here’s a very good article for teachers on how to deal with a traumatized child. It may be a good reference for starting a conversation with your child’s teacher. Don’t be afraid of the phone…it’s all part of the process.

Until next time,

Shannon