How Do You Know When It’s Time to Change Schools?

This question has been on my mind a lot since writing my Dear Teacher post, which got a lot of attention, including an interview with the LiHSK here in the Netherlands and a translated version published in their latest magazine.

I have seen time and time again desperate parents talking about the negative impact of school on their HSC, wondering whether it would be better to home school their child, or change schools.

Here in the Netherlands, homeschooling is not something that any parent can just choose to do. In fact, it’s quite hard to get permission to do it unless you have a valid reason for not being able to attend one of the many local schools in every neighbourhood. It’s something I looked in to a few years back when I saw what a detrimental effect the school my HSC was attending had on my child and his happiness.

When to Change SchoolsSo what made us start looking for a new school for him? What was our breaking point to start afresh? Here are the questions we asked ourselves.

  • Were we talked out?

We had had various meetings with various levels and functions of the school with nothing to show for it except tears and frustration on our side. We had support from the medical profession, a therapist and the Dutch youth services who had also sat and spoken to the school. We talked, they listened but nothing happened. There was no one left to talk to. There was nothing new left to say.

  • Did we trust that my son’s teachers meant what they said?

Whilst in discussions with us my son’s teachers agreed to take measures to support him to get some quiet time, but failed to follow through in the classroom. Methods that were working beautifully at home failed to take root in the classroom and we were at a loss to know why. One of his teachers eventually admitted that they didn’t believe there was an issue as nothing was evident in the classroom – he was a model pupil so they saw no need to take any action. We felt like we were being humoured when we sat in discussions with the school.

  • Was the idea of ‘highly sensitive’ acknowledged and accepted ?

We were told in no uncertain terms in the later stages of discussions that highly sensitive hadn’t been scientifically proven. There was therefore no support because the basic premise of our discussions was not deemed real.

  • Was my child being listened to by those responsible for him in the classroom?

As an example he told his teacher he was tired because the classroom was busy but he wasn’t taken seriously. He was told he should go to bed and then  that he didn’t actually look tired. You can bet that he’d never go back and tell them how he was feeling again. The trust with his teachers was broken.

  • Did we feel that we were on the same team as those looking after my child in school?

As the situation disintegrated we were told that my son’s problem was at home as the teachers saw no issues with him in the classroom. They told us to deal with the tantrums and meltdowns at home and leave school out of it. The teachers refused point blank to take measures to give my son some quiet time as they judged he did not need it. We were in a corner with no way out, no support from the place he spends most of his time during the week.

  • Was the class size and the way activities were organised workable for my child?

His class size kept growing with no end in sight. He was due to move to group 3 in the new school year and we asked repeatedly how many children would be in his class. We were told that that was not yet known. At the last moment we discovered that the rest of his time in primary school he would be in a class of around 32 children. We were faced with the prospect of a large, busy class with absolutely no support for being highly sensitive.

  • Was the school flexible?

When we spoke to the regional school doctor she confirmed that the school was very rigid, very scientific and there was no going outside the lines that they had drawn. I spoke to other parents that had moved their children out of our school to other schools and it appeared that they had faced the same brick wall facing us. It was a ‘do it our way’ or ‘go elsewhere’ approach which didn’t work for us – highly sensitive or not!

  • And most importantly what did our instincts say?

My son came home unhappy from school. That in itself was a reason to consider other options. If we asked how his day had been he said it had been fun yet we could feel something wasn’t right. The Dutch have a great saying which fit perfectly at the time – lekker in je vel te zitten. It literally means to sit comfortably in your own skin and it was evident that my son didn’t. We just got to the point where it didn’t feel right – instinctively we knew he wasn’t in the right place. Instinctively he knew he wasn’t in the right place but he couldn’t express what he felt.

The answers to these questions, as well as advice from externals, left us in no doubt that we needed to look for a new school.

Don’t get me wrong, making the decision to move schools is huge. However, my son showed that it’s sometimes not as big and scary as it seems. Children are more adaptable than you believe.

Once we had made the decision and found a school which seemed like a great option it was time to tell our son. I was nervous, ready for a drama and resistance, ready to wipe away tears and explain away his anger.

The reaction  we got from him bowled us over. When we told him he would start a new school after the summer holidays he smiled. He beamed and said, “Really? Cool!” He was delighted.

And then he began to tell us stories which showed that he felt he wasn’t being listened to, that he knew he wasn’t being taken seriously. Once we opened up a way out for him it seemed to clear the way for him to tap in to how he felt. He loved the idea of a school that understood what highly sensitive is, that wouldn’t expect him to be something he is not.

And believe me he hasn’t looked back!

Over to You: Has your child changed schools? How did you reach the decision? Are you considering a change? I would love to hear your experiences.


About Amanda van Mulligen

Mother, writer, author, blogger. Born British, Living Dutch. I have three Dutch sons and a Dutch husband and I blog about Turning Dutch and raising highly sensitive children.
This entry was posted in The How and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to How Do You Know When It’s Time to Change Schools?

  1. Pingback: How to Manage the Transition to High School | Happy Sensitive Kids

  2. Pingback: Farewell Basisschool, Hello Middelbare School – Turning Dutch

  3. Pingback: 5 Ways A Teacher Can Make or Break School for a Highly Sensitive Child | Happy Sensitive Kids

  4. Pingback: Top 3 Posts of 2017 on Happy Sensitive Kids | Happy Sensitive Kids

  5. Carrey says:

    What kind of setting do you all find is best for HSP
    Boy? Private, public, homeschool?


    • There is no one model that is best for highly sensitive children- all children are different. It’s about looking at their individual needs and ascertaining which school environment works for them. Often a different school works because the classes are smaller for example. Hope that helps.


  6. Pingback: Understanding a Highly Sensitive Child | Happy Sensitive Kids

  7. Pingback: Starting School with Baby Steps | Happy Sensitive Kids

  8. Suz says:

    My son got bullied through JK and SK, and came home one day with a stutter, and increasing anxiety that was coming out in all unhealthy ways, the final straw was him crying for ages in his bed at night those last two nights telling his teddy he hated his teachers, he hated his schools, when I opened his door to explore that further by asking him.. you hate your teachers? He said, well I hate myself. I told him no it was okay to hate his school etc but not himself. Then I told him he was not going back there, that school was to controlling, even I did not feel comfortable with them, I’d tell them before I think my son needs to change school and they’d tell me no he needs to stay here. No, as a parent I know what is best for my child and so does my child. I just left them a phone message to say he was not coming back, I did not want them to know his next school for obvious reasons and when they asked, I said I did not know yet I was still deciding which one out of those I found I would put him into and left it at that, it was really none of their business and I was protecting my son, something they failed to do.

    Well the next school down the road was almost bad but in other ways, mistake being they rang his last school, easier to blame our children not themselves right?

    I homeschooled him after that, he also got counselling, another thing the schools failed to provide him though the docs all said that was what he needed there, one was so bad they got a behavioural therapist instead, I think she needed it more for herself than my boy on that one.

    Six months after being homeschooled and my boy being a much happier boy again and pretty much over his bad experiences, he asked to go back to school, just not those schools. I assured him he wouldn’t be going there, but a much nicer and better one, and I had been more careful this time, a smaller number school in a rural setting, and very empathetic.

    Well what a difference, you can tell they are treating our children with far more respect.

    It really is finding the right place for our children, that are supportive not punative, those last ones were punative and that just increased his anxiety. I don’t remember him being anxious at all before he went to that school he was bullied, where the assistant teacher chose to not believe him when he turned to her for help in the playground as the bullies wouldn’t leave him alone and were hurting him… I didn’t see it so I don’t believe it was her not very intelligent response, so he acted out in frustration understandably, so she called the vice principle who grabbed and yanked his arm and took him into his office where he yelled at him, that must have scared the hell out of my boy, his stutter came next, myself and my parents were very concerned and worried about him at that point, and it was shortly after that I removed him from that school. I was not going to let any school, or anyone destroy my boy, who I have to say, is academically very very smart, not to mention very creative.


  9. Pingback: 21 Ways to Recognise a Highly Sensitive Child | Happy Sensitive Kids

  10. Kris says:

    My wife and I have moved our son once from a different schools and found the transition eased by parental involvement in organizing play dates and even a small party at the beginning of the school year. But eventually our son fell behind yet again when he couldn’t get through the noise and chaos of the class, in Alberta (where we live) the grade 3 course material is laid out for teachers with very little room to adjust for each student, my son can do multiplication and division in his head “thanks to Khan academy” and some gentle encouragement ie. Ice cream. But he’s failing tests with simple subtraction. I had the opportunity to watch his class from a distance “fly on the wall scenario” and first hand saw his head flip around at all the people talking ” teachers giving instructions” and at the end he has no idea what to do next. After a few emotional breakdowns we’ve decided to home school out son, and after a discussion with him about it, he’s ecstatic. It will be a juggling act but I believe the current education system in Canada is geared toward the average students learning style which in the end fits exactly 0% of the children, the smart ones get bored and loose interest, the ones struggling to keep up feel inadequate. That inadequacy feeling follows them their entire lives to the point where that’s just how they feel all the time, they don’t know any other feeling. I’ll stop now with one important fact, Einstein failed high school, his teachers thought he was handicapped, he eventually finished in his early thirties and we know where his life went. The most beautiful flowers bloom very rarely. Hugs can go a long way.


  11. marie says:

    Hi,I’m reading in 2016 and from the Philippines. We too pulled out our son without hesitations from his first school when he was 4(now 7). I discovered he is HSC just by the time he started school. He had a teacher whom we can call a not supposed to be a teacher who nagged him and raised her voice at him when he refused to do or slow to do what is asked of him. He didn’t show frustrations or pain by throwing a tantrum,instead he’d take it all in quietly for hours and constantly begged for a different school so after an emotional talk that ended in an argument with that teacher who would constantly defend her way of teaching we moved him to a new school.


  12. Pingback: Top 5 Happy Sensitive Kids Blog Posts of 2015 | Happy Sensitive Kids

  13. Driftlessmama says:

    Thanks for this post, very helpful! I would love to hear other’s perspectives on our situation. My 4.5 year old sensitive introverted son just started preschool this fall, his first outside childcare since he was 2, when he was in part-time (15hrs/week) daycare. For background, when the daycare class at 2 years old was over 3 kids he was very uncomfortable, providers said he stood alone or by teachers anxiously. As a result from 2-4.5 he was home with me, with individual playdates (including the same child 2x a week) 3-4 times a week which were great. Now he as been in preschool (Montessori) 3 days a week (Wed – Friday) 2.5 hour mornings for the past 6 weeks. He is having meltdowns many days afterward and not wanting us to leave him there, not initiating playing with anything while he is there, sometimes will engage with something when a teacher suggests it but often not. I stayed with him for a month (the school was quite accommodating) and the last 2 weeks have started leaving him for just part of the time. He knows about a third of the class (ranges from 13 to 20 kids with 2-3 teachers) but rarely plays with any of them, every now and then his closest friend. The classroom is nice, sometimes a bit loud with all of those kids, but he has headphones he keeps there and sometimes puts on when he feels he needs it. He does like group time. This is a bit long, sorry, I just find so many people don’t understand sensitive kids. I am wondering if your sensitive child did successfully transition to school and seem to be not harmed by it, how long did that take? Any other thoughts?


  14. Pingback: 7 Tips to Help A Highly Sensitive Child Flourish in School | Happy Sensitive Kids

  15. Anneliese Erkelens says:

    My husband and I are at the point where we have decided its time to change schools and in the process of switching him now to a new school. His current school does not seem to understand our son and how sensitive he really is. The way they go about dealing with issues is nearly always biased against him and often only makes the situation worse. We are tired of having to explain all this to them. They don’t seem interested in what we have to say and how they could approach things differently. After countless meetings with the school, phone calls and the situation is no better, we decided it was at breaking point, and the only way is to move schools.


  16. I live in Canada. I recently pulled my son from his middle school (grade 7). The decision had been brewing for years – and the reasons you have listed in your post were all ones that my husband and I considered in our decision. Our son has struggled for so many years. We have had some amazing teachers who kept us in the system, and we have had some who have crushed us with their lack of understanding and harsh judgements. I try to keep thinking of the amazing ones. But in the end, it just wasn’t enough. When you see your child’s self esteem spiralling downwards at such a rapid pace, it is time for action.

    We have him home now. It is not ideal, but we are working to get programs in place that will work for him. Thank you so much for writing this post and sharing the things you considered when making this decision. It really fit for me.


    • It takes tremendous courage to make such a decision and I think parents are at their bravest when they are backed against a wall, when your child is affected so negatively by something. That is a real issue with schools – every new school year we start again with the explanations and some teachers get it more than others. It’s tough. I wish you luck with your son and finding programs that work.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Definitely sounds like the right decision. It kind of irritates me that the school would help create a problem and them dump it on you, refusing to take responsibility just because they weren’t affected! I can appreciate that they need to work with certain practicalities but to just brush it off entirely…!


    • Irritating is one word. I can honestly say I have never been so angry with someone who I consider to be an external to the family. I’m usually very quiet and timid but one particular teacher unleashed something in me I didn’t know existed…….. I truly believe there are some people who shouldn’t be teachers – but the other side is that these people make you appreciate the great teachers out there, of which there are many!


  18. Georgianna Carr says:

    My HS daughter is now 14. She has had some issues in the past but this year has been the worst. She just started high school, a whole new overwhelming and scary world. My daughters counselor basically tells her that there are no other options and she should just learn to “cope”. My highly intelligent daughter states that she cannot learn or concentrate due to the many distractions. Her grades are slipping and she is depressed. I want to put her in cyberschool so she can keep her studies seperate from her social life. Her counselor and her father ( divorced) do not agree with my decision so I feel at a loss. Its hard as a mother to know instinctively what is best for your child. Due to legalities and the fact that society is still in the dark in regards to being a Highly Sensitive it just makes my daughters life that much more difficult. By the way, ive also been to h e r school to address my issues and was only humored and passified.


    • That’s heartbreaking to hear. Getting the message back that she just needs to learn to ‘cope’ is disheartening to say the least. We can give our HSCs the tools to cope better with their sensitivities as they get older but they need our support to do that – and there are some things that are just fact. Distracted by noise/activity is not something that you learn to just cope with – you need tools to help deal with distractions. Have you tried sharing the section of Aron’s book (The Highly Sensitive Child) for teachers and schools with her counsellor? I learnt the hard way that you need to gain understanding before you gain support.

      Humoured and passified. Sounds all too familiar. I hope you find a solution and get everybody on the same team to support your daughter.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.