“Back to school” can be particularly tough when kids live with a chronic illness. Even though school may be the highest priority for both kids and parents, making school happen can be a challenge. I’ve written before how the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was send my son to school in pain.
In the next few weeks we will be sharing suggests for helping kids make it back to school – brick & mortar, hybrid, virtual, or schooling at home.
But let’s start with the big picture. Families need to work together towards a shared goal: helping children grew into healthy happy adolescents and adolescents make successful transitions to adulthood.
In most modern cultures, school is a big part of that. It’s where kids learn basic skills, develop credentials, explore sports and the arts, and hang out with friends. As the pandemic has taught many of us, school is more than just a deliver system for learning.
For kids living with chronic pain, school can also be part of an effective rehab program. For my own son, it kept him moving – which was essential because his migraine attacks were exacerbated by sitting too long. Just walking from one class to another helped. It kept him distracted, as his interest in what he was learning – and chatting with friends – took his mind off himself and his pain. And it kept him moving forward as he slowly accumulated the credits needed to graduate.
In the United States, school is also the primary form of childcare for most kids, making it possible for adults to work outside the home. Nothing has been made clearer by the pandemic than school’s critical role in the US economy.
High schools don’t tend to be ‘pain friendly’
School – especially traditional high schools – are tough. The schedule is inflexible. The corridors are noisy. There can be no place to retreat.
At least three things are essential for success:
- The expectation has to be that you’re going to school. Debating every morning about whether things are bad enough to go to school is a recipe for failure. (Yes, sometimes you may not make it. But that’s got to be the last resort, not the starting place.)
- Everyone has to be on board. Both the child or teen and all the adults in the household. This is tough enough without people working against each other. If everyone can’t agree, this may be a good time to work through a plan with a counselor, religious leader, or family friend.
- You need to develop the skills to make it possible and a plan to make it happen. If just making up your mind to go was enough, school would be no problem. It takes concrete skills. How are you going to deal with spikes? What accommodations need to be in place to make it possible? How are you going to cope with the noise in the hallway or the bright fluorescent lights in the classroom? When you miss a class or a morning or day, how are you going to get your assignments? How are you going to keep organized when your brain is full of fog or your whole concentration is taken up by not screaming?
You also need a school and staff who will support you in your journey (and obey the law) to fulfill your rights to an education. But that’s another essay.
For more tips on helping your child move from bed to classroom, read my blog on Getting Kids In Pain To School.