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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Education or Stress: What is school doing to my daughter?

I’m not a teacher and I don’t work for the school district or government or anything. I’m also not a psychiatrist.

I do, however, have multiple college degrees and studied behavioral science and Psychology in undergrad and grad programs. I am also a hypnotherapist. So…

Here’s the problem I’m having. My 8-year-old daughter, who is in 2nd grade, is having panic attacks.

Not just the normal “I don’t want to go to school, I’d rather play” moments. But full on shaking, pain, shortness of breath.

Panic attacks.

Ever since she switched from a Waldorf School (very nature focused, organic, peaceful curriculum with gnomes and fairies) to the standard California school system, she has been getting stomach aches. A LOT of stomach aches.

I’ve had her checked by doctors. There’s nothing medically wrong with her.  

She is stressed.

It has escalated into the full-fledged terror inducing anxiety attacks that leave her clinging to me like a scared kitten. She doesn’t want to go to school. Doesn’t want to sleep without me. Doesn’t even want to sit in the back seat of the car because she can’t touch me.

Part of it is the pressure of the public school system. All my kids test well above average for their age. But my oldest is a country girl at heart. She’s happiest with animals and nature. An environmentalist and artist. She doesn’t like to be rushed. And these days it’s all about the timed tests.

Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!

She feels like a failure when she doesn’t finish the math quizzes in time. She knows the answers, but half her page gets marked in red because she took too long.

This is just one example. With the push for “No Child Left Behind” and the move to force kids into certain levels on standardized testing, schools and teachers are under pressure to perform. And we all know which direction that pressure rolls…

I hate this. I wish I could still afford the private Waldorf schools. Or homeschool. I wish my little girl was happier and more at peace. I wish I knew what to do.

Now in fairness to the school system, there have been a lot of other stresses over the last few years. Moving to a new state, a divorce that has left her and her sisters with less time with their father and a few school changes.

I know none of this has been easy. It’s been hell for me too. So much stress. We had to sell most of what we owned to survive when my ex didn’t pay child support. We moved several times before I found work and a place I could afford. If I’m struggling with my own panic, certainly an 8-year-old with no control over her life would be in a panic too.

But we are stable now.
And we have been for a bit. I’ve got great work and am doing well financially and professionally. We have a nice home in a nice area. They go to a great school with great teachers.

And she is getting worse.

I’m meeting with her teacher, the principal and the school counselor today to figure out how best to support her. I know I can’t change the entire public school system. (Can I?) But I need to do something to help my little girl. I can’t stand to see her so miserable.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this?