Adapting to High School

I have to remember that the second day of a new schedule is the hardest. Since my kids are on an A/B schedule, that means we get two second days during the first week. It means the first week of school feels really long and exhausting. By the beginning of the second week, things have begun to settle. We’ve identified which classes won’t work and have shaken scheduled changes out of the appropriate school personnel. We also had just enough anxiety incidents to remind the school admin that my kids are on the far edge of the “normal teen anxiety” bell curve. And I’ve just about managed to calm the self-doubting thoughts in my head which inform me of all the thoughts that I’m sure other people must be thinking about my parenting choices.

This week will feature two 504 meetings where I sit in a room with my teenager, some of their teachers, and a couple of school administrators. We’ll talk about my kids’ diagnoses and what they need in order to be able to succeed in school. For my daughter the meeting is pro forma. She’s been in the school two years and doesn’t really need anything different than she’s already got. My son is a different story. He carries some coping strategies from junior high that may not fly in high school classrooms. It is important for him to sit in a room with his teachers and negotiate what coping strategies will work for everyone.

I don’t know if this is universally true, but high school is harder to navigate and adapt for a special needs kid that junior high. It isn’t that the staff don’t want to help. They do. They are every bit as kind and willing (or the opposite) as the staff in junior high. There seems to be something systemic, a structural expectation that these teenagers need to be managing themselves. Also I think the high school staff gets a bit jaded from dealing with almost-adults who know enough to game the system. This means one of the staff jobs is to not let the teenagers get away with stuff. There is also a structural expectation that parents should back off. If I maintain a static level of intervention across junior high and high school, I will be seen as helpful by junior high staff and as helicopter parenting by the high school staff.

Until they’ve had one of my kids melt down in their class and they realize that what looked like hovering was me doing the bare minimum I could do while still preventing meltdown.

An argument can be made for not preventing the meltdowns. That it is by going through stress that kids learn to manage stress. I think about this every time I step in to resolve an issue instead of stepping back to let them figure it out. I’m trying to be better about stepping back. It is a learning process for us all. And I suppose it is an argument in favor of the structural expectations of high school. Merely by being more difficult to navigate, they force us to change how we handle the anxieties. We have to grow. And growth is the point of school.