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Were You Frustrated in School?

We’ve all had our unique school experiences.  But were you ever frustrated in school?  I know I was.  I’d like to share my experience:

It was late. I was sitting at the living room coffee table, asking my mom to help me, and then…it happened… I ended up crying (sobbing, really) all over my math homework. I saw my mom was surprised by my reaction. I was so upset I had spent hours on this work, unable to finish it or even figure it out. School had never been this hard for me up  to now. I’ll never forget what my mom said to me…’Heather, you’re not supposed to start the class knowing ALL of it from the beginning.’ Hmmmm. After she shared with me what her school environment had been, the teachers, etc. she added how lucky I was that my teachers would help me. So that was exactly what I did. I asked my math teacher to help me. The introvert, subdued, and VERY quiet person disappeared. From that moment on – I was not intimidated to ask for help and I knew that I could learn things that frustrated me (to tears even).

What do you recall from your frustrations in school? What was the class like? Who was your teacher? What were they like? What emotions are tied to this memory? Do you feel anxiety? Did you feel you could handle it? Did you feel like an outcast? Why do you think you felt that way? Did it change? How?

You’re probably wondering why I ask all these questions. Studies clearly indicate that emotion is tied to learning and retention. Emotion has an immense impact in how eager we are to absorb information. Do you think that your emotions about school impacted YOUR learning? How? What view did your family have? Did anyone ever relate their experiences with you? Did the topic come up only around report card or progress reporting time?

As the school year progresses – be open to talking with your child(ren) about school; regardless of the grade. Reflect and share on your OWN experiences.

As an advocate for families, I’m continuously curious about how a parent’s own memory can color the experiences of a child in school. It can be easy to succumb to automatic judgements – especially the negative ones. Let’s go over an example:

Mr. S was divorcing, with 1 son (7 years old), and his mother was involved in daily care of the boy. The boy was highly intelligent, tried hard in every subject, had some challenges with retention and reading, and received an array of supports from the teacher. Despite the accolades shared about the classroom; dad was far from thrilled and so quiet in meetings that you could hear his mind running. The reaction was atypical – so I asked questions. After 35 minutes of talking… dad ultimately shared with me that he was afraid. Afraid for his son. That despite the supports, despite the fabulous teachers, despite the shift in his son’s view of how he could learn – he was scared. You see, this father remembered when he was that age…all the challenges he had, all the specialists, all the homework, all the arguments that his mom had to fight in his school. So here was a grown man, reliving his own elementary-aged struggle and recalling his own anxieties. Suffice it to say, school (and supports) from 35+ years ago were certainly NOT the same supports that his son was going to have. Another interesting point – the little boy had told me repeatedly that his dad was mad at him for not trying hard enough (incidentally, FAR from the truth). I was lucky enough to speak with Grandma, a retired teacher, about what had been shared with me. Several family talks were held so that the little boy could hear from dad what his own school experiences were…and to detach them from his own.

I often wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t have asked dad why he was so quiet. Whether his fears would have impacted his son (without his knowing) and stifled all the gains that had been made throughout the year. Whether his son would have continued to have mixed feelings about his school, his teachers, or even his own abilities?

My request for families: be open with children about frustration in school. It is a part of learning and should NOT be considered a reflection of being stupid or from a lack of trying. Share your own experiences because you never know what can come from it.

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Heather Lascano, shares professional experiences involving conflict resolution, stress management, sensory assessments, and drug development research as it relates to advocating within the circle of influence of a child struggling with learning delays.

Written by Heather Lascano

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