The other day I ran into a mom of a 9-year-old on my lunchtime walk. She had taken one of my parent workshop series so she knew I was passionate about empathy building at home and at school, and that I had been co-writing a book about compassionate classrooms.
“I need your help,” she said with pain in her eyes.
“What’s going on?” I asked with concern.
She started rattling off everything that was wrong with her son’s school experience.
“He hates school. He says his teacher is boring. He won’t do his homework. I have trouble getting him up in the morning and into the car. He got in trouble the other day -- for laughing.”
Unfortunately, this is a familiar cry I hear from other parents. And I went through this myself when I was raising my son. What I learned was that sometimes the culture of a classroom can shift when teachers suffer from compassion fatigue.
Kids may disengage from school when they don’t feel cared about by teachers.
“I’m at my wits end. Ethan used to look forward to going to school. He loved this teacher at the beginning of the year. She was kind to him. And interested in listening him talk about the Percy Jackson books he loves to read. He didn’t start complaining about school until a couple of months ago” the mom continued. “And he was doing so well. But now he’s becoming turned off. I talked to the principal and asked for him to be transferred to another class, but she said no.”
I remember watching my own son’s enthusiasm for learning wane and become reignited again throughout his school years. There were days his resistance to go to school was so intense, and we were all so exhausted from arguing, that we both took “mental health days” and stayed home to sleep and do nothing. Then there were other days he was up before me, dressed and ready to go because he was looking forward to presenting a project or participating in a special school program that he was excited about.
Understanding the Problem
There are many reasons why a child might not want to go to school. There are many reasons why they might become disengaged from learning that they once loved, too. In many cases, the child's relationship with the teacher and the ability to feel emotionally safe in class make a very real difference. These factors, coupled with the stresses that takes place around school routines make school and learning less appealing to many kids as they grow up.
Do your homework.
Don’t forget your lunchbox.
Pay attention to your teacher.
Reminding our children to do the right thing while listening to their complaining is exhausting.
I remember how, when my son was in first grade, his attitude toward school shifted from enthusiastic to indifferent to resistant as the year went on. I wasn’t sure what was going on. And then I learned from some other parents that the teacher’s sister, with whom she was living, had become ill, and the teacher was taking care of her when she got home from school everyday. I realized that perhaps this teacher was suffering from compassion fatigue, losing her patience with her students and communicating the message that she didn't care for them as much as she once did.
Caregivers can feel burdened when they don’t take care of themselves.
I wondered whether this was what was going on with the mom who had just unburdened herself to me. I realized that I hadn’t seen her on my walking route in a while, and she looked worn out. She told me she was having some health challenges of her own lately, but thankfully, it was nothing major. I know that as a soccer coach she’s extremely conscious of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and she had been trying to work with her child's school around extending recess times, but to no avail.
“All I want is for my child to thrive, at school and at home, and I’m so frustrated. I’m doing everything I can do as his mother. But when the teacher yells at my child for laughing, I feel like there’s no hope.”
After about 15 minutes of listening and empathizing with her situation, I gave her a long warm hug. We both took a deep breath and smiled. We acknowledged that there are no easy solutions to these problems. She thanked me for listening to her and told me that making her feel like I understood her and really cared had helped.
And then I continued walking.
Taking Good Care of Ourselves
Parents and teachers are susceptible to compassion fatigue.
How might we as parents address our own feelings of exhaustion, frustration, and susceptibility to compassion fatigue that occurs when we are helping our kids navigate their school experience?
You might want to assess how you can improve your own spiritual, physical, intellectual, relational and emotional well being by doing a SPIRE check-in. I find it's a good tool for taking a reading of my overall well-being when I'm feeling out of sorts. It helps me figure out what aspect of my whole being I need to pay attention to most at that particular time.
Check out the free course to learn more about the SPIRE model from the Wholebeing Institute and details about how to do a SPIRE check-in.
We’d like to hear from you -- parents, teachers, school leaders, everyone who cares for our kids and teens. What are you doing to prevent and address your own feelings of compassion fatigue?
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