Has Your Child Gone Dark? How to Turn the Lights Back On and Reclaim a Love of Learning
What Does “Going Dark” Mean and What Are the Signs?
What does the term “going dark,” mean when it comes to your child? You may already know instinctively but have not been able to name this situation where the light begins to dim inside your child. So let’s paint a picture of what going dark looks like with our imaginary student, Cole:
Cole refuses to go to school. He says he has a stomachache. He is starting to cringe and struggle to go to school or . . . well . . . anywhere. He looks like his light has gone out—the outlandish and wonderful exuberance for life he had when he was younger, his vigor and engagement seem sapped out of him. Not much reported about school – he says it is boring and certainly it appears to be underwhelming when compared with his talents. Sometimes he is silent and stays in his room. Sometimes he even lashes out at his siblings. You try to get him to engage in more activities and to get more exercise so he’ll brighten back up, but it doesn’t seem to work. He won’t go or it doesn’t really make a difference. He always had such incredible creative ideas, loved to read, but now that passion for his life is gone. Cole is going dark.
What is up? Is it depression? Is it friendships? Is it school? How do you figure it out?
Turn the Lights Back On! What To Do If You Suspect Your Child Is Going Dark
- Listen to your child. Sometimes at 8 or 9, sometimes at 11 or 12, sometimes much younger a child’s unhappiness starts to simmer and boil over and it is hard to know the cause or cure. But being in synch with your child to understand their needs and focus on them is important.
- Stay away from blame. It may be frustrating because in some circumstances it looks like your child is not putting effort into adapting to their situation. But when the light starts to go out, this is not about a child’s adaptability, it is about their happiness and about the fit between what they need and whom they are. For example, it is tempting to think your child must be doing something wrong, or should just join in with the recess soccer game to feel happier and a sense of kinship with other students. Sometimes this really helps, but if your child is truly “going dark” enrolling them in new activities is not the answer.
- Re-discover your child. Discover what your child’s specific needs are by discovering WHO they are: Some kids just bloom where they are planted – wherever they are. Other kids are more fragile and really need just the right setting. Begin with times your child was engaged, energetic, and passionate about their days. What did that look like or involve? Did they ever thrive in a smaller classroom? Have they responded to different types of learning (visual/ audio/ tactile)? What do the moments of engagement and energy in school and outside of school have in common?
- Seek an evaluation. Work with a counselor, or ask other parents and teachers for a referral for someone to evaluate your child’s needs. If you suspect that severe boredom may be part of the problem, do a full neuropsychological evaluation to see where you child falls within the context of age based norms. In the ideal world, all parents would do a neuropsychological evaluation for their child to aid in their understanding of their child’s profile, needs, talents, and vulnerabilities. This helps parents be patient, understanding, and helpful to find or create the right educational pathway and support for their child.
- Consider making a change. Once you have a greater understanding of what is going on with your child, making a change may be the best option if you are seeing no results with attempts in other areas. What if part of the problem is that what they need is fundamentally different from what they are getting at school?
What if your child is a gifted child?
It’s about fit. When it comes to school, public schools may well not be the one size fits all solution for a more fragile or vulnerable child. This can be for many, many reasons. 40% of all gifted students are underperformers in school. There are a myriad of reasons. But perhaps finding a new setting which honors their voice, interests, and fans the flame of their talents can create a new opening for who they are, how happy they feel, and their day to day experience at school.
At Acera, we know what it looks like when the lights are turned back on for a child. Our school was founded for gifted students. Some were – by all measures – thriving where they were before but just weren’t on fire about ideas and learning the way their parents knew they could be, given their innate curiosity. But we have seen others who really were really struggling in their prior situation and the lights were going dim. For a myriad of very individual reasons, some kids start going dark from the moment they begin school. Some kids start refusing to go to school as early as age 4 sometimes, though this is more common in grades 3, 4, and 5.
The most important thing to remember is that your family has options. There are other schools, teaching methods, and communities where your child will thrive. The key to turning the light back on inside your child is to find the places where they will shine the brightest. It’s a process, of finding what works for your child and your family.