My Unhappy Memories: How to Raise Your Kid to Love School (When You Really Hated It)

It boggles my mind that I spent the whole English class in my senior year of high school copying notes over my friend’s shoulder. I missed out on a lot because of my deafness and the school’s lack of accommodations.

The teacher spoke too fast and was difficult to lipread, so I gave up. He had a twisted, dry sense of humor that had the whole class laughing — except for me.

In spite of these experiences, I consider him one of the best teachers I’ve ever had because I still learned so much from him. His compliments about my expository writing skills had me running to the dictionary to look up what that meant — and got me thinking about journalism as a career.

Three years later, my sister, who was also deaf, was in his class. And she learned from my experience — she used an interpreter so she could follow everything.

In college, the best accommodation I was able to get was to ask classmates to share their notes. In the early 90s, real-time captioning for the hearing impaired was rare and expensive. And I wasn’t assertive enough to get over my fear and guilt to insist on more support than just other students’ notes. As a consequence, I missed out on great lectures, guest speakers, and special events.

By the time I got to graduate school, I knew I didn’t want to miss out on anything again, and lobbied hard to get what I needed; I got so much more out of my education as a result.

My kids were born hearing, but both were diagnosed with celiac disease. Thankfully, I’ve been able to use what I learned from my parents and my own experiences to advocate for their accommodations at school. I’ve also taught my children to be more assertive themselves — and not just in terms of their celiac. They’re learning how to ask for what they need and want, and how to do so appropriately.

The 2014 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) changed schools' responsibility toward learning accommodations. Follow this link to learn more about what services public school are required to provide.

Negative Experiences Can Affect Your Decisions

I’m not the only person who had a negative educational experience that led to making specific educational decisions for her kids. One of my friends had undiagnosed dyslexia into her 20s, which meant that her educational experiences until then were difficult. Even though she didn’t believe her kids were dyslexic, she had them tested early because she wanted any learning challenges or giftedness diagnosed early.

Related: "How to Get Tested for a Learning Disability in College"

If parents have been through a negative experience themselves, they often blur the boundaries between their needs and those of their kids, says Dr. Jeanette Raymond, a licensed psychologist and family relationship expert.

She offered the following case as an example: A patient had a terrible time in middle school, “a denominational school where she and her fellow students had to sit at a desk that was screened off like a cubicle, and had to work on her own,” says Dr. Raymond. “There was no contact with other children or the teacher.” The teacher expected a completed piece of work at the end of class and was highly critical, forbidding questions. As a result, the woman struggled with the material and ended up with bad reports, which got her in trouble with her parents.

“She vowed that she would never put her son through anything like [her] experience,” says Dr. Raymond. “She wanted him to be a free spirit and almost egged him on to defy authority and structured learning. Any attempt by his teachers in elementary school to get him to do tasks was seen by her as a recurrence of her own negative experience.”

Her son was identified as having special needs in elementary school, and entered middle school with a reputation as a uninterested student who had potential. The mother considered homeschooling her son, but this year he enrolled in a regular high school and is getting A’s on nearly everything.

“Why?” asks Dr. Raymond. “Because I helped his mother establish a distinction between their experiences. I helped her understand that while she was hell-bent on fighting her battle through him, he responded and turned off his motivation and skill. Now that she has given up that battle after a lot of therapy, he’s coming into his own and shining.”

The lesson is for parents to work through their own experiences as they’re triggered when children enter the family, says Dr. Raymond. “Then, the child doesn’t have to become the vehicle for the parents’ unfinished business and suffer as a result.”

What You Can Do

In addition to therapy — since a lot of this is unconscious — and talking to someone who can understand without judging, journaling is also helpful, according to Dr. Raymond. Susan Newman, Ph.D., educational psychologist and author, has some additional suggestions to avoid having a child relive your own unhappy experiences. She says parents should:

  • Make every effort not to transfer their feelings about school and their own negative experiences
  • Avoid assuming that their child will have the same problems they did
  • Recognize there are two sides to every story
  • Avoid ignoring the problem or brushing it aside because they recognize it or feel it’s too painful to relive
  • Know that some learning differences may be inherited. If a parent has ADHD, for instance, there is a 25 percent chance that her child will too, even if it was diagnosed late in life.
  • Recognize that their child is different and respect her individual approach to school
  • Fully understand their child’s strengths and weaknesses and avoid pushing or, conversely, backing off if a child needs help
  • Keep expectations realistic
  • Check with the appropriate school personnel to find out how to work together to support the child’s learning needs

Not being affected by your past, especially by events that had a negative impact on your life, can be a struggle; however, being able to separate these feelings from the decisions you need to make for your child is important for her success.

Noodle cares about education for all students — check our resources and advice about learning disabilities and differences for more information.

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