–by Lorraine Fuller
Back-to-school time involves mixed feelings for so many of us trauma moms. We might look forward to the respite it provides. I am a stay-at-home mom and while I love my kids, I enjoy the much-needed break at the end of a long summer. The routine my child thrives on is easier for me to keep up with during school. Plus being able to grocery shop without my son stealing is nice.
Then there is the other side of the coin. Triangulation is often a big issue when traumatized and attachment-disordered kids are in school. We worry about the new teachers, whether they will listen to us or make things worse by believing everything our kids say. Will they be able to keep our children safe from themselves and others? Will our child have friends, be invited to parties? Then again, we also worry when they are invited. We are so good at worry that we’ve even come to dread the phone ringing.
One important tool is communication. The teachers who have your kid all day can be partners instead of enemies. It just takes a lot of work on both sides. I try to have a preemptive conversation with each teacher to explain certain things about my son, both good and bad. If I tell only the bad, they’ll be too shocked and horrified to hear me. I also have to stay unemotional as I explain my child’s clinical diagnoses. A specialist can be a huge help with this, even if it’s just to write a letter. Remember that many teachers have not been taught about the effects of trauma and poor attachment.
Even if you do all this, the truth is, not all of them will listen to you. There is a popular meme among teachers that children who are loved at home come to school to learn, while children who are not loved at home come to school to be loved. So the teachers try to love the child. For some kids, this is great. For attachment-disordered kids with loving parents, this attitude is harmful. These kids are afraid of true love and connection, so they would rather get a teacher to love them on the limited calendar and contact time of school than accept a life-long, 24/7 connection with their families. This actually makes the child’s illness worse, as the teacher, no matter how well-meaning, is providing only superficial love. The teacher doesn’t meet all the child’s medical needs, provide food and shelter, clothe the child. Yes, the teacher might buy a student shoes, maybe even a winter coat. For a child living with abuse or neglect, this is a lifeline. For a child living with attachment issues, it’s a disaster. Children might intentionally destroy or lose the things their parents provide. My child hid his jacket during winter. These kids prefer the impermanence of the student-teacher relationship, but without the deep, permanent relationships formed in family, they cannot heal.
My son has had teachers who have helped, others who have hindered him. He always tests his teachers in those first few weeks. He breaks small rules to see if they mean what they say. He will lie to see if they believe him. He usually refuses to use his new backpack or wear his new clothes. He will even bring 2-inch-long pencils from the year before. He will hide his lunch in his locker, claim he doesn’t have one, see what happens next. He will put his name on the right side of the paper if the teacher says left, “forget” to write the date or anything else the teacher has said. He will bump into people and drop things, turn homework in late with an excuse. It’s all a giant test to see if the teacher is strong and safe enough to make him feel safe. If they fail, he escalates. Some teachers hear my explanation and realize what is happening. Others don’t. They want to save this supposedly poor, neglected child, maybe even ignoring truly neglected children for this one. Don’t give up, though. Keep trying to explain, and thank them often for what they do. And don’t worry if sometimes you forget. Some years I do well, others I am too burnt out.
Here’s to a new school year. I wish you all great teachers who are willing to listen and learn. I wish you energy to keep up the fight. I wish your children an atmosphere where they feel safe and can learn. I wish all our kids healing as they learn to attach to their parents. A new school year brings both dread and hope. I’m going to try to focus on the hope this year.
Please share your hopes for this year. What do you wish teachers understood?