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.
- 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.