School and Emotional Wellness

Rabbi Azriel Hauptman

Children of all ages attend school from just a few years after they are born until they become adults. Kids are sent off to school in the morning and return in the late afternoon while their parents go about their daily lives. Essentially, school is serving two roles: educating the children and babysitting. Being that children spend such a large percentage of their time in school, we must ask ourselves, what are the mental health ramifications of this institution that we call school?

Before we answer this question, we must make a disclaimer. This article is not focused at all on fixing our schools. Our schools are doing the best job that they possibly can. In many areas of life, we do not live our lives the way Hashem intended. For example, the Torah was meant to be mostly oral, but today everything is written. Who knows how better our vision was when we studied the Oral Law orally?! School in its present form is also a modern invention, which like everything else in life has its pluses and minuses. Hence, our main focus is to get some insight into what our children are subjected to in school so we can better understand their behavior when they come home.

Children sit in desks for most of the day and must abide by the myriad rules and regulations of their school. As a result, they may experience a range of emotions including boredom, frustration, and stress. By the time their day is over, their energy reserves may be completely depleted. How does this affect their behavior when they come home?

Before we explore that question, you might want to first ask yourself, how would you feel at the end of the day if every single day you were told what to do, how to do it, when to do it, everything you do is graded, and you will be punished if you dare get out of your seat without permission? Additionally, quitting is not an option and you are stuck in this system for another decade! You would probably be suffering from anxiety, depression, sleep and eating disorders, just to name a few. Yet, we demand this from our children!

Admittedly, many children do just fine and emerge from their school experience none the worse for wear. However, many children are impacted by school even if school was overall a very positive experience. Children can be moody, irritable, and cantankerous during the school year and be more relaxed and agreeable when school is off.

This can be exacerbated if a child has perfectionistic tendencies. He or she might really enjoy school, but the energy that they expend on making sure they get straight A’s can leave them with very little gas in their emotional tank when they come home. This is one of the reasons for the common phenomenon where a child is an absolute angel in school but is moody and impatient at home.

You also must bear in mind that the way schools are run is that the administrators and teachers have the final word and you have very little freedom to challenge their authority. When the child comes home, the bottled-up frustration with the authorities at school might be taken out on his or her parents who are the authority at home. Once again, our intention is not to challenge the ways schools are run. Schools are what they are for countless reasons that are beyond the scope of this article and the teachers and administrators are caring, hard-working people who have the children’s best interest in mind. In spite of all that, school can still tax the emotional wellness of a child.

Dr Seuss once wrote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you will go.” That is school in a nutshell; an invaluable place where our children learn the skills of life that will take them many places in their future. As their parents, you are the captains of the ship who need to be on the lookout for when the child needs a life preserver. Parenting and education is a partnership, and when the partners work together, the children will be better equipped to ride the waves of life.

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