Back to School Blues

“Mrs. Messina your daughter would get distracted by a fly on the wall.” This was the response my mother received from my elementary school educational team as she engaged them for answers. Back then, if the “ADD” diagnosis existed without the hyperactivity component, I am sure I would have been referred for medication. In reviewing my elementary school report cards, year after year; there were comments that said, Helene needs to put more effort and pride into her work, Helene needs to stay on task, Helene needs to stay focused on her work…I’m sure you get the point.

The key was the “Helene needs to!” I remember wanting to and walking into school with determination and desire, “Today I’m gonna stay focused.” Well the educational team was accurate-something would get my attention and I’d be off day dreaming again. Once I came back to consciousness, I’d try getting back on task. By then, it would be too late and I felt hopeless!

I choose to tell you this story for 2 reasons. First, I could imagine my mother’s stress as they pointed out all of the things I was doing wrong. Other than testing, which didn’t provide answers and tutoring, there really wasn’t a solution, at least not one that got to the route of the issue. This leaves a parent feeling stressed out and hopeless. When an educational team, parent and child feel at a loss, all will become entrained in a feedback loop of stress and fear. Within this confused state, we will often point to the child asking them to fix it by saying things like, “You’re being lazy! You need to try harder! You need to focus and pay attention!”

Secondly, today, we would name it ADD or ADHD and Band-Aid it with medication. Or we can and should call it “STRESSED-OUT!” When you are stressed, our thinking is confused and distorted and our shot-term memories are suppressed. This makes the processing of information and the retention of new information nearly impossible. For girls, this generally looks like ADD. It is a stressed state of hypo-arousal. In these terms, daydreaming can be understood. For boys, this would typically appear as ADHD. They are hyper-aroused in their stressed out state.


How to help kids regulate their back to school stress:

  • Call a 504 and IEP team meeting and create interventions that will reduce stress.
  • Read up on the effects of oxytocin. The product Oxytocin Factor appears to be less harmful them some of the other ADD or ADHD medications and is just as effective.
  • ***Most importantly, try to understand what the child’s experience is before you seek to make your point. Neuroscientist, Dr. Bruce Perry explains how children with traumatic histories expend their emotional energy trying to keep themselves safe. He gives the example, “Imagine getting a cancer diagnosis and then sitting in a meeting. How focused would you be?”
  • On a day when you know your kiddo went to school and he/she were really struggling, pick him/her up from school early just because! Take them for lunch and when they ask you, “why”; tell them, “I was thinking about you and it made me smile!”

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