A Tale of Two Students
It was the best of first-days at school. It was the worst of first-days at school.
Tammy transferred from private school to public school, and today was her first day of classes. She was nervous, didn't know anybody, and wasn't thrilled with the choice to switch schools– a choice I advised her parents to make based on her educational needs. She got through the first day and will return to the school tomorrow. She told me, "It wasn't as bad as I thought, and I like not having to wear a uniform." I reassured her that the days would get easier, she was building skills, and I would support her throughout the transition. She texted me a brief thank you later that night.
Joanna transferred from private school to public school, and today was her first day of classes. She was nervous, didn't know anybody, and wasn't thrilled with the choice to switch schools– a choice I advised her parents to make based on her educational needs. She got through the first day and will NOT return to the school tomorrow. She told me, "I hated every minute of it. It was awful. There was nothing good about the day." I reassured her that the days would get easier as she built skills, and I would support her throughout the transition. She told me that she was not going back and hung up the phone on me.
What's the reason for the difference? The ability to power through a tough situation.
As you're reading this, I'm sure some of you will contend that different situations present different challenges, and to a certain degree this is true. However, this was not the case in these two situations.
Transitioning to a new school YEAR presents challenges to even the most confident learner. Transitioning to a new SCHOOL can be even trickier. Will I earn good grades? Will I find my classes? Will I be able to open my locker? Will I make friends? Basically, will I be accepted by my peers? The natural "will I fit in" dilemma.
And this is where parents can help their children most of all: foster an expectation that you need to "Commit to your Commitments" (one of my personal mantras).
In Tammy's situation, the parents set an expectation that Tammy would attend and adjust. In Joanna's case, the mother and daughter had a history which allowed Joanna to bail out of a situation at the first sign of discomfort. And that's exactly what happened on the first day of school: discomfort. Joanna's mom let her stay home from school on the second day to avoid any more discomfort. Bad pattern.
Kids need to learn how to break through fears in order to successfully conquer them. Kids who continue to avoid discomfort tend to develop a psychological defense method that basically says, "This is hard. I am uncomfortable. I do not like this. I am shutting down."
This is what really troubles me because no matter where an individual attends school or eventually works, she will have to face difficult situations without shrinking from them. If she retreats at the first sign of a challenge, her self-esteem will continue to plummet and her anxiety will increase. This sets the foundation for all future reactions.
In college/university, IDEA, the law that requires student success/maximum achievement in high school, no longer applies. Colleges only need to follow ADA/ADAA regulations and a 504 plan only guarantees access to help NOT success , so Joanna will need the ability to “power through” tough situations if she wants to earn a degree.
There's no perfect school, no perfect program, no perfect career, so it's important to at least work on these skills at this point (by teaching appropriate self-advocacy, anxiety management, etc.). If she knows she has to face the situation without having an "out", she can learn to desensitize herself from whatever it is that’s driving the discomfort. It's painful and slow, but it’s part of the process and must happen in order for her to be independent one day.
Independence and self-confidence are "far, far better things that she does, than she has ever done."
(Thank you, Charles Dickens. )