Getting Back to Homeschool After a Mental Health Crisis
We love differently-wired kids around here. We’re used to quirks and differences, square pegs and outliers. We understand that our little babies can deal with some very big things and we do everything we can to empathize and advocate for them. Sometimes we make big decisions and battle through little progress, but we never, ever stop trying to help our kids, despite the journey often requiring us to take paths we never imagined with maps we don’t understand.
Sometimes during the privilege and pain of raising such spectacularly different children, we encounter traumatic, unforeseen, upending events. When raising a differently-wired or twice-exceptional child, sometimes this means a mental health crisis. Whether it’s a bout with depression, an explosion of rage, or admission to inpatient care, these mental health emergencies have the power to halt everything. Once the crisis has passed, however, it can be difficult to re-enter life as it was before. You’re different. Your child is different. Suddenly everything feels more fragile than before, and you’re left feeling as though you’re walking on eggshells trying to get back to “normal“. You may feel isolated and unprepared, and in a way you are, but this is not something you have to navigate blindly.
When faced with a mental health crisis, the focus is solely on survival. Doing the work that needs to get done, making the changes that need to be made, making the appointments, practicing the skills, and sometimes even taking the pills. Time outside of the wellness bubble can stand still or race forward, never matching up with your current feelings and experiences, leaving you feeling disconnected and living in an alternate reality. The time comes, though, when re-entry begins and you ease back into the speed of life around you.
Homeschool studies are one of the areas of life that can easily be placed aside in the midst of a crisis, mental health or otherwise. The flexibility of homeschooling lends itself to the option to wait until later, catch up, slow down. When faced with inpatient care, health crises, numerous appointments, or intensive therapies, homeschool can – and probably should – wait. Eventually, though, you will find yourself and your child needing to pick back up with their learning or needing the comfort of routine. So how do you get back into your homeschool routine once your world has been turned upside down and reality has been irrevocably altered?
First and foremost, focus on your home, not your homeschool. Remember that you are not doing school at home, and academic timelines are created by public schools to fit the majority of typical students. Your child does not have to finish Algebra by 9th grade, does not have to speak a second language by senior year, and does not have to graduate at 18. However much time off you need to take, take it without worry of getting off schedule. Focus on making your home feel safe before you worry about it being educational.
Everyone in the family has just been through a traumatic experience, and everyone will need to cope in their own ways. Check in on siblings and spend intentional time with them. Talk openly with your struggling child about how they’re feeling, what they’re thinking. Remove any potential dangers in the home, including mental and emotional ones – some anxious kids struggle with seeing the time on clocks, some depressed children need to avoid certain movies or books. Focus first on what makes home comfortable and safe so that everyone has a place to heal.
Depending on the length of the mental health crisis and the specific diagnosis being treated, your re-entry into homeschool, specifically, will need to be tailored to fit your child’s needs. If anxiety is an issue, activities like strewing can easily become overwhelming, situations that require a child to make a decision from several options. Crafts may prove to be frustrating, combining sensory irritations and the feeling of powerlessness that can accompany finished products not resembling the inspiration behind them.
For children battling depression, focus on your kiddo’s natural strengths, subjects or games that aren’t enormously challenging and will guarantee them success. Incorporate activities that encourage discussion and introspection, things like art, writing, anything that allows for the expression of emotions without a grade being assigned.
If dissociating, a fugue state, or another extreme break from reality has taken place, routine will be of the utmost importance. Whether it’s creating a solid schedule, incorporating favorites into the day, a bedtime ritual, or even a specific meal, find ways to keep your child grounded at home, provide an anchor that can always be expected and depended upon. Be mindful of the stories you read together, making sure they aren’t so wildly fantastical that they trigger your child.
If you have other children, keep their needs and comfort in mind, as well. They likely have felt neglected during the crisis you’ve all just come through. They may have had to stay with loved ones during treatment, walk on eggshells during meltdowns, or generally give up more of their time and more of your attention. Take them out to one-on-one dinners, to the movies, spend an extra 30 minutes in their room after bedtime just listening and chatting. Praise and hug them as often as you can.
In all of this, don’t forget to give yourself some time to heal, as well.
When everyone is well and stable enough to begin formal lessons, start with only a handful of subjects or activities, even just one if you need to. Cuddle up together and read, out loud. Share stories. Play easy games. Watch reruns of America’s Funniest Videos or Mark Rober YouTube videos. Get back into the habit and flow of gathering together to enjoy something. Add in subjects one at a time, waiting as many weeks or months as you need. Remember, graduation dates are an arbitrary deadline that your child doesn’t need to focus on as much as they do their mental health.
It may take months or years to get back to your regular homeschool routine, or you may never return to what you previously did. Needing to schedule various appointments means making days flexible, moving co-ops or subjects around. Your former schedule may have been too overloaded, or not structured enough. It would also be incredibly beneficial to find ways to incorporate mental health learning into your homeschool, working through social stories or improving emotional intelligence together. Your homeschool may never be the same again, and that’s okay. Because the point isn’t to get back to life as normal, it’s to adjust your life to become the most supportive version of normal that is needed.