Home education for the child in crisis

Content warning: this article talks about children in severe states of mental distress and issues related to that.

People choose home education for many different reasons. For some, home education is the only option when a child is in crisis, and where continuing in the school setting poses a grave risk to that child. If this applies to you, and your child is struggling at school and with their mental health, we encourage you to get in touch with us here at HEN. Sadly, and somewhat unbelievably, home education is not usually offered as an alternative to mainstream schooling, when a parent and school, possibly also medical professionals and counselors, are having discussions about how to help a child in crisis. Emphasis is often placed on measures designed to keep the child in the school setting that is causing this suffering, when the child is not really able to cope with the thought of being in that environment.

If your child is really struggling, you can withdraw them from school immediately. You don’t have to send them back while you are waiting for your homeschooling registration to be approved. You can read more about that here. Registration is straightforward and not onerous, and HEN provides a lot of advice.

At HEN, we help people understand the Victorian home education regulations: how to register, where to find resources and networks, and so on. However, we often hear from parents who are in a state of complete overwhelm and desperation, because their child is experiencing significant mental health challenges due to school. Some of these children reach a state where they are having suicidal thoughts, or run away from home because school is so bad, or worse.

Parents of these kids will sometimes tell us they just didn’t know home education was an option, or they were flat out told not to remove their child from school. They were told that their child needs to learn resilience and that home educating them would teach them avoidance. That the child needs to be exposed to bullying at school because how on earth will they deal with bullies in the workplace? We don’t need to expose children to significant trauma and distress in order for them to learn this kind of lesson: we don’t throw them in to the deep end of the pool and expect them to learn how to save themselves.

If you are withdrawing your child from school due to a crisis, we would also encourage you not to focus on areas people often ask about home ed: ‘what about socialisation?’, what/how to teach, friendships, uni. Right now, the focus is on the child, in some cases getting them to re-engage with daily life. You can leave the other stuff for now, but let’s address them briefly:

Socialisation/friendships: for many of these kids, the social aspect of school is what has led to the crisis (bullying, exclusion and so on) and often they will need time to rebuild their confidence. They may feel pressured to be social if parents/loved ones are pushing the ‘what about socialisation’ angle with home ed, when perhaps they just want to leave all that for the time being and be left alone. And that is completely okay. Their lifelong social skills won’t suffer if they want to be left alone for now. If your child does want to seek out new friends, check out home ed groups that may be local to you here. If you’re on Facebook, there are activities advertised frequently that are open to all.

What/how to teach: let this worry go because now is not the time to worry about the academics (and remember, kids in crisis at school often aren’t ‘learning’ due to stress and anxiety). In Victoria, you can apply for exemptions as part of your homeschooling application to some of the key learning areas, and parents often do this for children who are struggling with mental health. You can see a sample of this here. Always remember that learning doesn’t have to look like school. If your child is up for going out somewhere like a gallery, or a visit to the library, or helping you with the grocery shopping, all these real life experiences are also learning experiences. It may seem flippant to say don’t worry about the academics, but the experience of so many who have been in your shoes is that now is the time for mental health recovery, not memorisation of times tables (though if your child genuinely wants to do that, follow their lead). Does your child have a specific interest or hobby? You can always build on that in ways that don’t look school-like.

Getting into uni: again, now is not the time to worry about that especially if it’s way down the track. But to ease your mind, home ed kids get into uni and TAFE and jobs all the time, often earlier than peers in school. You can read more about this here.

Children who have come out of a bad school situation need time to decompress, as do the parents. We recommend reading our information on deschooling as this can be a very important part of the healing process for kids, and adults too.

Many families in this situation need to quickly find ways to make home ed work, for instance changing work hours, or managing other commitments. These are all very individual to your family so options will vary. Some families are able to involve grandparents or loved ones to help look after the child while the parent works, while for others this isn’t possible. However, there are many home ed families in tough situations who have made it work, though it may not always be easy.

This is a topic that is hard to compress into a single article, but we do want to encourage you to learn more about home ed and how it can work for your child if they are in crisis. It is very unfortunate that parents in this difficult position are often given wrong or misleading advice about home ed from people who have no experience with anything other than mainstream education. HEN, and the wider home education community, are always willing to help so please reach out. People will understand what your family is experiencing, and give you the information you need to help your child on the path to healing.

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