Being Allies to Our Children in School

Dear lovely parents,

I am writing to ask you to share your experience with and strategies for staying close to your children and being an ally to them as they enter school and go to school.

What decisions have you made about their being in the school?

What has changed outside of school in terms of your relationship with, parenting of, and being with your children?

How have you set things up at home in response to school? 

Thank you so much,

California, USA

Such a good question.

We get up very early in our house so that before school there is play time, time to do everything we need to do without being rushed, time for sessions if they bubble up. There are, of course, days when we have to hurry, but these go better because they aren’t the norm.

Absolutely sacred is thirty minutes of running and tumbling before bed. On days when we are especially late to bed, my younger son will say, “Just two minutes of running and tumbling!” and we will wrestle or do whatever else we think of. We stay with our children until they are completely asleep. We also sleep with them, and they certainly search us out to snuggle in the night.

We have been present in their school building in a variety of ways from day one, giving them a continuing sense of our presence and the availability of resource.

I’ve learned not to disparage the confusions of the educational system. It’s been useful to give our children information and perspective. However, my older son has used my criticism of homework, for example, to avoid doing things that have felt hard. I’ve learned to use homework as an opportunity for sessions. (I told the first- and second-grade teachers that our children would mostly not be doing the homework, but in third grade this did not seem useful.)

New York, USA

When my daughter started school, I cut back on my work hours and spent a lot of time with her before and after school each day. We did lots of playing on the playground and lots of special time.* 

During special time she would make me eat candy (which I hated) and would laugh and laugh. We also played school—she would be the teacher, and I would be the student. Sometimes I would be a very obedient student, and sometimes I would misbehave and she would punish me. I got some glimpses into what she was facing at school.

I also volunteered at the school once a week. I would read with the children and work on building a relationship with the teacher. My husband and I often wrestled with our daughter at bedtime, to laugh and get close and create ways for her to be powerful.

North Carolina, USA

My son is in first grade at a big public charter school. The adjustment has been shocking and hard for him but also incredibly good for his confidence on so many levels. The oppressiveness of the institution, young people’s oppression, and internalized oppression (teasing and some bullying) among the children have been hard. At the same time he has fallen in love with his teacher, made some good new friends, won some battles, and is feeling proud of himself. His school is a hard place to be, but it’s also a warm place, with many messy and real relationships always moving forward.

I think the most important thing we parents can do is discharge on our own struggles. I’ve had to discharge on how weak, unable to defend myself, bullied, and defeated I felt in elementary school and how desperate I feel to protect my son. I can see similar distress on several people I know who have chosen to pay tons of money to send their children to tiny private schools. If I had the money, I would have been tempted to do it too! But I am glad now that I didn’t. I’ve learned that facing new struggles isn’t necessarily a bad thing for my son, if he has the chance to talk about it, discharge, try things, and have some successes.

At first I gave him special time every day, whenever or however I could. Some days he was scared to go to school, and we would do whatever it took to be ready thirty minutes early so we could go to the local park and have big physical light-saber (Star Wars) battles, and of course he always won. We would laugh as much as we could, which often made it possible for him to walk in the door of the school.

We also do special time after school whenever we can, for a few minutes up to two hours depending on the level of attention his dad or I have and who is working and when.

Once every two months or so, we have a “yes” day (I can’t remember where I read about that idea; it may have come from a Co-Counselor). On “yes” day our son gets to set up the day however he wants it. Either his dad or I cancel work, because, of course, he decides not to go to school.

On some “yes” days all he wants to do is be at home—watching videos, having us read to him, playing, and so on. The day unfolds at his pace, which is way slower than the pace of school. Often he tells stories about school. It’s not special time—his dad or I can do things we need to do around the house—but we try not to make any major decisions about the day other than to generally follow his lead.

Even though “yes” day is infrequent, it seems to make a big difference and sometimes allows a big session to happen. This is really important, since with boys’ oppression and young people’s oppression, big sessions are getting fewer and farther between.

I think school is an interesting project for families. There are definitely new layers of oppression to contend with but also new opportunities for connection. Our son’s school puts us in contact with many families we wouldn’t have gotten to know otherwise, and we’re always learning as we stay by his side.


Rhode Island, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list

for leaders of parents

(Present Time 185, October 2016)

* Special time is an activity, developed in RC family work, during which an adult puts a young person in full charge of their mutual relationship, as far as the young person can think. For a specific period of time, the adult lets the young person know that she or he is willing to do anything the young person wants to do. The adult focuses her or his entire attention on the young person and follows her or his lead, whether the young person tells, or simply shows, the adult what she or he wants to do.

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00