We face this question with our own kids several times every year! Each time, we must reevaluate where our child is emotionally and how we can help them be successful at school. If we determine that the school needs to know about our child’s past, we then must determine how much to share. Here are some guidelines we follow:
- Privacy first. Our child’s story belongs to them first. We should never share any detail that we don’t have to share. Keep the story factual and do not allow for judgment or discussion about the specifics.
- The fewer details, the better. No one needs to know the whole story except for your child. You can tell a teacher that your child experienced food insecurity or that the child missed a significant amount of school while in foster care. Don’t tell more than necessary.
- Some details matter. If your child experienced food insecurity and now hoards or steals food, the teacher will need to know. If your child is afraid to be touched, the teacher needs to know. If they child has an FASD, the school needs to know. Trauma can affect the child’s success in all areas of life but won’t necessarily limit success everywhere. Determine what details need to be shared.
- Healing at home leads to success at school. Teachers may not understand the partnership between the school and home. This conversation is a must. The child’s success at home will determine the success at school. The child’s feelings of safety at school will carry over into the home environment. A well-rounded experience of support and safety will be healthiest for the child.
- Safe, consistent language is crucial. Our son, who experienced food insecurity as a baby, discovered he could get extra snacks from his teachers in second grade. Instead of reinforcing his safety, the extra snacks reinforced his feeling of insecurity and his belief that moms and dads will not provide for their kids. With the school and our son’s teacher, we came up with consistent language that we all used around food. The teacher and school were able to support our family and our son by saying things like, “Your mom always packs you a good lunch. Can you show me what you have today?”
- Shared goals lead to success. The goal is to raise a successful and healthy adult. When we partner with the school, we support one another in raising this child. When we work together, we can help our child understand the expectations at school, and the school can reinforce the trust and security we are building at home. Our child’s teacher needs to know a little about the child’s past in order to help move him or her toward the future.
We love movie quotes and one of our favorites comes from the 1996 movie The Rock starring Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery. In one particular scene, Mason (played by Connery) asks Goodspeed (played by Cage) a serious question. Goodspeed replies, “You’re on a need-to-know basis…and right now…you don’t need to know!”
That may sound harsh, but that’s the perspective you need to take with people outside of your home who provide care, or a service, for your child. There may be details they need to know about your child’s past trauma at a certain point. Just not everything, and not all the time. It’s a need-to-know basis.