Monday, September 28, 2009

Homeschooling children with a history of trauma

This is a topic where pretty much everyone has their own opinion. I will say right up front - if you are parenting a child who has experienced trauma, your opinion is absolutely correct, no matter what it is.

While I do think there are immeasurable advantages to homeschooling a child who is healing through attachment and trauma, I only think they exist under the right circumstances.

* Can you afford the loss of income, while forking out for therapy ... or replacing pee soaked carpeting every six months?

* Do you have support in place to give you respite and/or encouragement to keep you going when you spend so much time with a child who is trying to push you away?

* Is the daytime environment fair to your child? Do they need the break each day from pets or younger siblings because of their temptation for acting out or showing aggression?

* Can you truly embrace the reality that bonding with you is 1 million times more important than schoolwork? Are you willing to modify their schoolwork, school day or even school year when it interferes with Job One: attaching to you? Can you be okay with that?

I think I was blessed, having already homeschooled for several years. I had already seen and experienced, first hand, how much learning takes place outside of any kind of organized teaching. So, it wasn't hard for me to modify work, or actually say, "Ya' know what? You're just not strong enough to be doing school right now. I'm going to have you take a break. We'll pick it back up later."

The crazy, off-the-charts advantages are also disadvantages. My children have those extra seven hours of opportunity to manipulate, control and generally freak out. I, however, also have seven extra hours to facilitate bonding, regulation and trust building.

I incorporate therapy into school, whether it is something to help them with neuro problems, or group activities to practice teamwork and cooperation and even ways to build their attachment to me. When it was time to check their work, I would have them sit next to me. If they were working on a math problem, I could have them use MY fingers to calculate. There are so many ways to utilize touch and closeness while we're learning together.

I can break down the school day into smaller increments. We can do 4-day week so one day is devoted solely to attachment therapy and complete downtime afterward. If one of my kids is refusing resisting my instruction, I can whip something out of my parenting toolbox to help them work through it in a way which meets them exactly where they are on their journey to healing.

Homeschooling also gave me the opportunity to make the kids' worlds very, very simple in the beginning without too much chaos or triggers. Now that they are attaching, they can come home from an activity and tell me how someone might have upset them or ways they were controlling. In the beginning, though, I was teaching them and coaching them through every step. I have been able to slowly extend those boundaries so by the time they're in a social situation which may cause stress for them, they have already been practicing how to stay regulated. It's certainly not fool-proof (at all *cough*), but more times than not they are using the things they have learned and been coached on for months and months.

Finally, it is a massive advantage to know what my children have learned and their capabilities. I don't have to start the school year blind to their behaviors, only to then be smacked out of nowhere when the honeymoon is over. When a child acts as though they can't add, I don't have to waste time wondering. I know they can add, subtract, multiply and divide more quickly than any of their siblings. I can see they are having a moment of anxiety and perhaps negative feelings, instead of having to question their knowledge or academic abilities in that moment.

Homeschooling and trauma histories mixed together is just too much for one post, but I hope this gives you an idea as to how it works for us. I utilize so many aspects of life for learning that it just isn't a big deal if behaviors stick their noses right in the middle of an organized teaching moment.

I mean, there's always, "OW! That was my pectoral minor you just bit!"

Or what about learning the in's and out's of urine and feces?

During group discussion, throw out, "The big story your sibling told earlier about how they almost went to the Olympics - was that fiction or nonfiction?"

Perhaps something like, "When your sibling called me a sh**, would that be considered libel or slander? What if they wrote it on the wall?"

See! The opportunities are endless.

All joking aside, it is HARD to homeschool in these circumstances sometimes. Read the top of this post again. It's certainly not possible for every child and every situation. Yet, for some of us, it is feasible and can push our kids toward attachment much more quickly. If it leaves you in a puddle of tears every day, then it's kind of defeating its own purpose.

Don't feel guilty either way. DON'T! The entire family is a part of the healing process, and you know best how to balance it for everyone. You know what you need to stay regulated and to keep your family moving forward. Trust yourself and keep your eye on the big picture.

(photo by Edwin PP)


Lisa said...

Thanks for all the great ideas. I needed them today. Almost makes up for the fact that all of you are in Texas and I'm in GA. :0

Anonymous said...

Great post, Christine (as always). For us, homeschooling Vivi came about partly because sending her to school was such an over-the-top triangulation/manipulation/control issue that it was a bazillion times easier to manage her at home. Her teachers all thought *I* was the crazy one while she was a master at playing PLOG (poor little orphan girl). I could send her to school with perfect hair and clothes, and by the time she got there, she looked homeless and disheveled. She was a ticking time bomb for false allegations. Homeschooling is still not a perfect solution, and I would encourage RAD moms to look at the "unschooling" (Google it)approach for kids that are SUPER defiant.. at least for legal/paper purposes until the kid can comply with basics.
xoxo Corey (who owes you an email)

Luke Holzmann said...

Thanks for the insights, as always!


Brenda said...

I agree about school choice. There are so many plus' to home school, private school, public school. The good news is that any decision is not a permanent one and can be changed. I think sometimes we torment over this decision when we don't stop to think that if it doesn't work or stops working we can try something else!

ali said...

i dig you. thats all for today lol

Mom 4 Kids said...

I had not read this post. It is so well said, the what to think about. I do not home school at this time but it is an option that I go over in my mind from time to time. I like how you put that regarding the child struggling with the temptation of younger siblings and or pets. Thank you so much!

Mijk said...

But but.. You are not really learning them dutch are you ;) ?

De lurked just for that.....

Unknown said...


This thing has been posted this long, and you are the FIRST person to say anything.

You win the prize.

Oh, wait. I don't have a prize.

Just pat yourself on the back. :)

Mijk said...

It helps that I am dutch ;) And it
kind of messes with ones brain if one is happily reading along in english and dutch pops up... I am loving your blog! And checking out my breastfeedpictures!