Why Isn’t My Child Learning At School and Always In Trouble?
Is your child or teen struggling at school? Do they complain of not understanding the work? Can’t focus ? And always seem to be getting in trouble ?
Some kids have a genuine diagnosed learning disability or disorder but for many that’s not the case yet they still struggle..
Here’s the thing ..If kids & teens don’t feel safe at school then they can’t learn , in fact it’s impossible!
In this instance , I’m referring to their nervous systems feeling safe. This isn’t in your child’s conscious awareness – often if you ask a child who can’t go to school what the reason is , they wont know or have a reason, they will just feel too anxious to go. There doesn’t need to be bullying or anything sinister going on at school for your child’s nervous system to feel unsafe .
Before we discuss how we can help them feel safe to enable them to thrive, let’s look at possible reasons a child’s nervous system might not feel safe at school:
Possible Reasons for Feeling Unsafe at School
•Your kids are away from their homes ‘their tribe’ and may not yet feel like they belong. Feeling alone can trigger a stress response due to the fact that as a human species we relied on being part of a community for finding food , shelter etc for survival and this is still inbuilt in us on a deeper level .
• Classrooms are loud, they can be smelly, and are often brightly lit with those horrible, overwhelming fluorescent lights. (I believe schools would see a huge improvement in behaviour just by allowing natural light.)
• Kids are grouped by age in classes, and some kids won’t find anyone they have anything in common with. If your child is very mature or even immature for their age then again they won’t feel like they belong.
• Today, with all the testing, kids are being bombarded with too much information. They aren’t getting a chance to process what they are being taught and end up feeling overwhelmed, stupid, and stressed.
• Classroom sizes are getting bigger so kids aren’t getting the time to ask the questions they need to be able to understand and not understanding is one of the big reasons for their nervous systems feeling unsafe.
• Being singled out for using a processing style not accepted in the classroom, for example visual kids may appear to not be listening as they are looking out the window trying to make sense of verbal information by creating visual images in their minds. This can mistakenly be interpreted as bad behaviour and not paying attention . Nothing worse than a child being asked to stand up in front of their peers to be publicly criticised for perceived behaviour as this puts the child directly into survival mode and this shuts down any ability to learn! Another example is demanding a child look at you while you speak . Some kids find looking at a persons face too distracting to listen and actually process better when either looking away or moving .
• Kids are being exposed to more news events, internet etc. and this can affect their sense of safety away from the home.
• They are turning up to school already with high levels of stress . Possible reasons could be due to eating too much sugar for breakfast or on the way to school, conflict in the home between parents or another sibling , not having enough sleep or exercise.
All of the above may switch on a part of your child’s brain called the limbic system- you may know of it as our reptilian brain . It switches your child into survival mode or flight or fight , resulting in inability to learn , anxiety , feeling stupid headaches /tummy aches and friendship difficulties. Sadly many kids can remain stuck in fight or flight for their entire schooling years!
Some Ideas To Support Your Child to Feel Safe in School..
• If possible, choose a school with smaller class sizes and a higher adult to student ratio.
• When choosing a school, look for ones with natural lighting & windows that open. Also ask if they spend lots of time outdoors and give regular movement breaks or ask if your child can have some regular movement breaks (movement disperses stress energy ). Also ask if your child can have regular access to water on their desks.
• Request an individual learning plan (did you know that in VIC every child has a legal right to one if you ask?). Explain to your child’s teachers their individual needs and processing styles. This is particularly important if your child struggles with sensory overload. Simple things like organising for a staff member to be your child’s ‘go to person’ when they feel stressed , asking that your child sits at the front so they don’t have the distraction, sitting them away from loud ticking clocks or under Fluro lights etc and allowing them to wear noise cancelling headphones or playing music through headphones. Ask if there is a safe quiet space for your child to go to for times they feel overwhelmed as well as reducing workload when your child is communicating that they are struggling .
• Help your child feel like they belong by encouraging after school play dates, or joining them up to local sports teams or other hobbies where they can find kids with similar interests.
• You may want to try a compression garment to wear under their uniform .These singlets help to provide proprioceptive feedback to your child / teen and settles their nervous system, allowing them to feel safe in their body . These are especially great for kids that love wrestling or constantly seem to be banging into things/throwing themselves on the ground or really clingy to mum, wanting to sit on her lap and enjoy lots of big hugs . The brand I love is Jetproof . Alternatively buy a weighted toy/pillow from an online sensory supplier for them to sit on their laps in class (great for the younger ones) or a weighted blanket for at home to relax the nervous system.
• Allow your child mental health days off or letting them start a little later so they can sleep in (especially the teens). This allows their nervous systems to rest. Put magnesium salts into their nightly baths to calm their bodies at night for good sleep .
• Ensure they eat a well balanced , nutritional diet – especially breakfast . Less sugary cereals and more eggs , yoghurt or leftovers from the night before . Pack a healthy lunch & snacks. If you would like more support surrounding nutrition I can recommend some excellent nutritionists.
Lastly, retained reflexes can deeply affect a child’s inbuilt sense of safety. Often retained reflexes means the child will struggle with certain tasks at school so will compensate by using different strategies, such as trying to move their body, copying work off friends sitting next to them and asking for them to explain things . Sadly rather than it be recognised as such, it may be viewed as poor behaviour by teachers.
This becomes a very fast spiral to low self-esteem, inability to concentrate or focus, actual behaviour problems, friendship difficulties, chronic illness and even school refusal, burnout, and shutting down.
If you have tried lots of different ways to support your child or teen to feel safe in school and it hasn’t helped then I recommend bringing them in for a few sessions so I can help calm their nervous system down , integrate any reflexes and find and release any stored traumas and emotions keeping the body caught in the fight or flight state.