Navigating School Challenges: Advocating for Your Child’s Well-being

Have you ever received one of those dreaded calls from your child’s school, summoning you to an immediate meeting with the headteacher?

It’s the call where the message is delivered in a tone dripping with disapproval and you are left feeling full of embarrassment and shame. Unfortunately, I have experienced this situation more than once. The first such incident involved my son while he was in Primary 1, and only five years old at the time. During this call I was informed that my son had hit his teacher. To say I was shocked was an understatement. If I am honest I struggled to take in what they said as I knew my son to be a sensitive, loving soul who I had never witnessed respond with violence.  I knew in my gut that there had to be more to the story than what I was being told.

The situation

I later learnt that the situation had arisen when the teacher requested that my son put on his jacket.  My son responded that he didn’t have a jacket with him. He did in fact have a jacket that day but the previous day had been glorious weather and he had gone to school without one.  My son did not intend to be untruthful, he simply mixed up the days and made an honest mistake. The school’s version of events failed to mention that the triggering incident was preceded by my son’s (new) teacher screaming at him in front of his peers, unfairly accusing him of lying and then dragging him out of class to empty his bag which is when my child riddled with embarrassment lashed out.

Now there are so many things wrong with how this situation played out, from the teachers’ behaviour and to my child’s, because I don’t condone anyone lifting their hands to another person. But to put a little context to the situation my son had experienced a very upsetting week, which included his best friend changing schools and his first teacher, who was kind and supportive, leaving the school due to personal reasons. Now I think at any age this would have been an unsettling week, but to a five year old who already struggled with expressing his emotions, it was devastating. Add into the mix a new student teacher who was clearly ill-equipped or experienced enough to deal with a child who needed a little extra understanding and patience. It was in fact a recipe for disaster.  

Meeting the Headteacher

As I sat in that meeting with the headteacher and deputy head, I was bombarded by conflicting emotions. Guilt, shame and embarrassment all surged through me, triggering a feeling of being an inadequate parent.  Simultaneously, my inner Mama Bear roared, to defend and protect my child. How could they solely blame a young child for this situation? Internally, I debated the injustice and lack of responsibility of the adult, who clearly failed to have shown greater emotional intelligence. 

The headteacher’s verdict – that my son needed to see a doctor and be referred immediately to CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services). While my internal conflict raged on, my protective instinct grew stronger. Who were they to dismissively recommend professional intervention for a five year old? Yes he had made a mistake and acted poorly but did this situation really warrant such drastic action? I left the meeting and the school with my son, as he was not allowed to return to class that day due to the teacher being ‘too upset’. Again, I was left wondering who exactly was the adult in this scenario! 

Meeting the Doctor

I made an appointment with the doctor a few days later. (Clearly this was before Covid). My husband and I spoke with the doctor in detail, explaining the situation and that my son did struggle with his emotions and could often find some situations challenging. The doctor listened and provided a reassuring perspective that my son was a young child still learning to navigate his emotions and there was no indication of any mental health disorder. He said that it was clear that these struggles often surfaced at school. The school, therefore, needed to enhance its ability to handle sensitive situations and provide appropriate support systems. 

Supporting my son

I looked into what support my child was actually entitled to and took it one step further and sought advice from an acquaintance that I knew worked as a support teacher at a different school. Armed with these insights I revisited the school and communicated the doctor’s opinion and requested some practical solutions be put in place to aid my son’s moments of overwhelm. Their response was a mix of reluctance and displeasure, but they did eventually assign him a support teacher – a right I knew my son was entitled to. 

One of the things I had started to notice was that when my son was very upset the more you talked, trying to calm him down, the worse he got. Through observation I realised that he was actually mentally shutting down due to overstimulation. This is where he struggled the most. It was the point that any adult responsible for his care needed to be able to read the situation and allow him space to calm down as he was beyond being able to communicate his needs. We discussed this with the support teacher and initially there was some resistance to acquire what we requested. I understand and appreciate that school budgets are tight, that there are more and more children requiring support, and the education system is struggling. But my child was my first priority and I knew he was entitled to receive support. We did not give up the fight, and eventually, it did pay off. 

Working together, with the support teacher we created a plan designed to help my son cope better. This included a soothing box and a designated safe space within the classroom – a pop-up tent – where he could retreat to regain his composure.  Additionally, we created a guide for teachers to follow during moments of heightened stress. 

Challenges

While this journey was not without challenges along the way, it highlighted the significance of communication and partnership. Working together to find a solution that worked for all parties involved. We knew if we didn’t fight for our boy he would have gotten lost in the system or labelled as the ‘trouble child’. It took some time but we created an incredibly supportive system for our son, where the class teacher, support teacher, headmaster and ourselves were all on the same page with how to support him. He knew who to ask for help if and when he needed it, what his support plan was and what strategies and tools he had in place. Which meant there was consistency throughout my son’s life, and to a child that struggled with change of routine that was invaluable to his health, well being and development. As he got older and something no longer worked for him he was involved in how it changed. This helped his confidence and self esteem, and he eventually worked with the support teacher to help and support other children. Which was wonderful to see. I am also pleased to say that the pop up tent and soothing box were such a success the school went on to use them with other children too.

So if you are experiencing something similar, my advice to you is this – 

No-one knows your child better than you do. Trust your gut instinct! 

Do you need support?

If you think your child needs some support that the school isn’t providing, check what your child is entitled to in your country and don’t give up until you get what they need and deserve.  Every child deserves to be accepted just as they are and given the help, support and patience they may need to be their best selves.

For more information on your child’s rights I have listed some helpful websites below. If you wish to stay in touch I have a free, private Facebook group called Anxious Kids SOS, it is a safe and supportive space. To learn more click the link below:

From Enquire Website -

All children in Scotland have a right to be provided with a school education from age 5 until they turn 16. School education must aim to develop your child’s personality, talents, and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.

If your child needs extra or different help from other children their age to fully benefit from their education, they have a right to receive additional support with their learning.

Your child also has the right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and Scottish law to have their views considered in decisions that significantly affect them.

See their website HERE

From Mencap Website -

Children and young people with special educational needs (SEN), including those with a learning disability, have a right to receive special educational provision. This is defined as “educational or training provision that is additional to, or different from, that made generally for other of the same age” in mainstream settings.

See their website HERE

In England, children and young people with SEN may also receive some health care provision and social care provision to help them with their learning and development.

https://www.unicef.org.uk/rights-respecting-schools/the-rrsa/the-right-to-education/

https://lawstuff.org.uk/education/getting-extra-help-in-school/

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