“Did You Know My Preschool Teachers Didn’t Like Me?”
By the time he reached kindergarten, my son was convinced that he was a bad student, undeserving of his teacher’s love and unwanted by his classmates. The damage happened before I even realized there was a problem.
The debrief meeting with our son’s play therapist was friendly and helpful. She was reviewing our newest goals as we took notes on the handouts she provided. And then it happened — she shared a powerful statement that devastated but did not surprise us: “He continues to ask me ‘Did you know my preschool teachers didn’t like me?’” These words, she said, came over and over again from the heart of our five-year-old son as he sorted through his school experiences during therapy.
I almost lost the floor beneath me from heartache for him. Then I was furious for the severe, lasting damage that had been done. His therapist told us he mentioned his teachers’ dislike for him each and every session. He repeated this weekly, at just 5 years old, as he worked to undo the negative self-talk his brain had begun to hardwire within the walls of his preschool. He had been in a perpetual state of embarrassment and punishment while at school, and we had no idea how deep-rooted the pain was until it all unraveled in therapy sessions.
As his mother, this was obviously heartbreaking to hear. As a teacher, this drove me to learn as much as I could about ADHD and share it with other educators. I began a mission: to never allow another child to process their differences in such a painful way, especially at the hands of educators.
As months have gone by, I have come to realize that his teachers probably had little experience with ADHD characteristics in preschool. In retrospect, we now see that our son was showing signs of ADHD at age three, and by age four, we knew he was atypical in some way. Even as his parents, we felt lost; I imagine his teachers did, too.
Their attempts at making him adhere to the expected behaviors of a “normal preschooler” wounded his heart; it was imprinted with the idea that his teachers did not like him. In only nine hours per week of preschool, his mind and heart formed the idea that he was unfit for his class and that he was unliked by those who were there to love him. Those wounds would ultimately take months of therapy to begin to heal.
[Free Download: What Not to Say to a Child with ADHD]
Why Teachers Must Learn About ADHD
As an educator myself, I have had to have many difficult conversations with parents. I can imagine that our son’s preschool teachers didn’t know what to say to us, but what they did say was all behavioral. We responded to their reports with consequences and behavior plans, which further added to his feeling of failure. I wish they had just once mentioned that something seemed developmentally different or neurologically atypical. Maybe they could have suggested that we seek input from his pediatrician. But in all the weeks that they did not mention these things, our son kept suffering.
It wasn’t until I had to fill out an ADHD evaluation checklist for one of my own students that I noticed some identifying descriptors that matched our son. I printed my own copy and folded it up into my purse, waiting for the next inevitable conference. This was the beginning of us finding the answer. Our son has severe ADHD; it was not behavioral after all.
Our son’s early suffering could have been prevented with teacher training – both for his teachers and for myself as a teacher-mom. If only his teachers had known more. If only I had known more. I believe training is the only way to prevent this from happening to other kids in preschools and schools across America (and the world) who are suffering with undiagnosed ADHD. I do not believe his teachers meant to treat my child in such a hurtful way. They simply didn’t understand him. Honestly, neither did we.
Our son is still processing some of his memories from preschool, and some of it he still chooses not to talk about. He has come a long way in facing the hurt he carried and learning emotional control. He has learned to love who he is, his brain, and all the special abilities that come with ADHD.
But I hope that our story — his story — can help inform parents and teachers far and wide of the importance of learning about ADHD. Even more importantly, I hope others learn about the hurt that is caused when it is misunderstood.