What would be the purpose of telling the teacher or school?
Will the teacher knowing what happened be helpful to your child?
Many times, parents tell me they want to make sure their child isn’t punished if she becomes triggered at school. They are hopeful the teacher will be able to manage the child’s anxiety, anger, aggression, inattention, depressed moods, etc. better because of knowing about the abuse.
WHEN TO TELL
If your child is having a lot of difficulty at school and the problems are related directly to the abuse, you probably should meet with the teacher and school counselor to let them know what happened. An action plan can be made to help regulate your child’s behavior (i.e., regulate her brain) if she becomes dysregulated at school. That way she can avoid getting into major trouble and she can get back to focusing on her academics so she doesn’t miss out on learning. Now, this doesn’t mean your child gets an excuse for poor behavior. Children, especially those who are experiencing internal chaos, need structure. Rules still should apply to your child, but they should be given in a safe & supportive way. If your child’s school is not trauma-informed, consider asking your child’s trauma-informed therapist to meet with the teacher and school counselor to help create the action plan.
WHEN TO WAIT
If your child seems to be doing okay at school, she’s reluctant to have others know what happened, or you’re just unsure if sharing her story will be helpful for her, then wait to say anything. You always can talk with the school later, but you never can untell something. I have seen teachers handle abuse information with incredible sensitivity, but also I have seen teachers mishandle this information; they tell other school staff, they walk on egg shells, or they simply just treat the child very differently – none of that is appropriate or helpful for the child.
WHAT TO SAY
Being abused is incredibly personal. Oftentimes, parents forget their child will grow up one day, and they say things to others about the child that won’t be forgotten. Maybe your child won’t care if people know she was abused as a child or adolescent; maybe not. If you choose to share your child’s information about the abuse, try to limit the details and share only what is necessary to help your child.
If you decide talking with the teacher will help your child at school here is an example of what to say:
“We just found out Lilly was being sexually abused. We think that’s why she wasn’t paying much attention at school and why her grades dropped. She has started working with a therapist and the therapist told us she might have some behavior problems the next few months because of dealing with the emotional fall-out. We wanted to let you know this, not so that you can excuse her behavior, but so you can understand it and keep us informed if you have additional concerns.”
Really, though, you don’t even need to name exactly what happened. For example, you could say:
“I wanted to let you know Lilly has been experiencing something very negative and emotionally damaging. The stressor has been removed, and we have started her in therapy, but her therapist has told us she might have some behavior problems the next few months because of dealing with the emotional fall-out. We wanted to let you know this, not so that you can excuse her behavior, but so you can understand it and keep us informed if you have additional concerns.”
Sharing the details of the abuse with others – unless you’re talking to her therapist, primary care provider, or CPS – usually doesn’t enhance the help your child will receive at school. The bottom line is that if your child becomes dysregulated at school, she needs to become regulated. The school staff doesn’t necessarily need to know the details of the negative event to know how to regulate your child, although sometimes it can be helpful (e.g. child is scared of men with beards because abuser had a beard).
MY KID WASN’T ABUSED, BUT SOMETHING ELSE NEGATIVE HAPPENED
A negative event doesn’t just mean abuse, it could range from experiencing separation, divorce, a move, death of a loved one, etc. The same rules from above apply. If you think sharing what happened with your child’s school will help your child during the school day, then share. If you’re not sure, then don’t.
MY TWO CENTS
When I train school personnel on being safe & supportive (i.e., trauma-informed for those who know the lingo), I'm often told that knowing what’s happening with their students outside of school helps them better serve students at school. I don’t disagree that this information could be useful for school staff; however, I also think schools should just regulate dysregulated students regardless of the presence of a negative life experience. (Besides, almost every child experiences at least 1 negative life event by the age of 18 -- and a majority experience at least 2 -- so it's not unreasonable to have an overall safe & supportive / trauma-informed school policy.)
If you’re in the Cincinnati area and wanting services for your child, consider contacting Child Counseling Place. Additionally, if you are an organization or group that serves children and would like more information or training about dealing with children who’ve experienced adversity, I will be happy to provide that for you.
- Erica L. Daniels, LPCC-S
Pediatric Mental Health Counselor
Child Counseling Place