21

Our daughter's teacher is having their 6th grade class read ‘A Long Walk to Water‘. Our daughter is struggling with severe anxiety, migraines, and nightmares due to the pandemic and challenges with distance learning. We don’t want her to have to read this book due to her fragile emotional state.

If we were not in the midst of the current coronavirus pandemic, we believe this book would most likely be fine for our daughter. It’s just that right now she’s having a very difficult time and she reacts strongly to any material she finds scary, negative, violent, stressful, etc. and this book is, well, here’s what commonsensemedia has to say about ‘A Long Walk to Water’:

Parents need to know A Long Walk to Water by Newbery Medal-winning author Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard) blends fact and fiction to tell a story of the civil war in Sudan (1983–2005), in which more than 20,000 so-called Lost Boys became displaced and/or orphaned. There are bombings, burnings, and people with guns and machetes. Protagonist Salva, who's 11 when his story begins in 1995, knows that sometimes boys are forced to fight. Walking from his village to a refugee camp, he suffers greatly from thirst and hunger. His friend's eaten by a lion, he sees people who have died from dehydration in the desert, and he watches his uncle get shot to death. Another man is hit in the head with the butt of a gun. A boy is shot and another is killed by a crocodile after refugees are forced in the water by soldiers -- 1,000 refugees die that day. Readers will learn through the alternating story of Nya, an 11-year-old Sudanese girl in 2008, about people trying to solve problems in that country after the civil war, some with nonprofits that come to build wells in villages, and they learn how fresh water can lead to schools, markets, and more.

  • 33
    @chasly-reinstateMonica For a kid as old as 6th grade? I am not 100% sure I stand by everything I'm about to say, but my reflex is to counterweight your idea as hard as possible by saying that it is definitely appropriate for many kids, maybe even some as little as half that age, and frankly should maybe even be mandatory. Kids need support and guidance and coping skills, not sheltering and blinders. It is important and good and well within many kid's abilities at that age to face such emotionally hard and painful things, to process the bad feelings and think about how the world has them. – mtraceur Sep 24 at 20:46
  • 24
    That said, I implore everyone who finds themselves agreeing with my last comment to also do your best to practice compassion and empathy for the children who have to deal with these things. I said they need support and guidance and coping skills, not a "suck it up" attitude that just dismissively demands they be able to handle things. Having been exposed to a lot of stuff like this myself from a very early age, I think it was profoundly beneficial to my growth, but it was very emotionally hard and hurtful. It is easy to be overprotective about it, but we must not be cavalier about it either. – mtraceur Sep 24 at 20:59
  • 11
    @chasly For what it's worth, 6th graders in the US are typically 11 years old, +/- 1 year of age. – TylerH Sep 24 at 21:23
  • 6
    @mtraceur just to make sure we're all understanding each other, a sixth-grader will usually be 11 or 12. You said "half that age", so, about 6 years old. I definitely don't consider myself overprotective, but I very strongly disagree that a book wherein the death (including murder) of preteen children is a primary plot point is appropriate for a six-year-old. – gatherer818 Sep 25 at 5:59
  • 6
    @gatherer818 He said "maybe even some as little as half that age", not "all 6 year old kids". Personally I believe I would have been fine at around 7 or 8 years old with reading such a book when I compare it to the books I know I read at those ages. I do not have a hard time imagining that some kids will be fine even at 6, but it seems the main point was that these are topics that with proper care and guidance (!) most if not all 11 year olds should be able to deal. – David Mulder Sep 25 at 9:24
51

First, a note: I am not speaking to whether this is a correct choice on your part on her behalf; I would encourage you to ask that as a separate question.


If you have concerns about a particular assignment, you have a few options. Your first and best option is to speak to the child's teacher. Bring up your specific concerns, as to why you believe this will negatively impact your daughter. This is the best option, both because the teacher is the person who can most easily change the assignment to a different one, and because the teacher can give you information as to what else to do if the teacher cannot modify the assignment (such as due to curriculum requirements).

If this does not work, and you still want to pursue this, you should then follow up with school administration - usually the principal or similar role depending on the school. This person nominally supervises the teachers, and may be able to override curriculum requirements. Beyond the principal is usually a school board or similar governmental body; I don't recommend going that high, as they aren't really suited to handling individual student needs.


A different route would be to consult your child's medical professional, particularly if she is seeing a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. If she is in such severe state as you describe, I hope she is; if she isn't, please consider having her see one. A medical professional such as these would be able to discuss the issue with you, and if they agree that the book is harmful to her condition, could write a letter to the school informing them that in their medical opinion this would be harmful. At that point, the school would be required to make a reasonable accommodation (in most countries).


Either way, though, I think the teacher is your first point of contact. I as a parent try to have a good relationship with my children's teachers, and one of the advantages of doing so is precisely this: being able to talk to them about concerns I have, and having them be addressed. They're human, and they can understand issues like this; they might not agree, or might not be able to, depending on restrictions placed on them, but they can at least empathize and give you tips for how to proceed if they're unable to help you.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    It's hard to imagine a teacher and/or school administrator not being receptive to this, especially given the current situation. – Barmar Sep 24 at 15:42
  • 5
    I have a (now adult) daughter who had anxiety issues which also led to agoraphobia and eventually in early teens an ADHD diagnoses. Unfortunately, I have no trouble believing that teachers and administrators can be unreceptive to accommodation. I agree strongly with the therapy advice and strongly encourage the OP to get "official" with a 504 plan. (or similar if not in the US) – Yorik Sep 24 at 21:47
  • Joe, thanks for your very quick and thoughtful response. We are indeed starting with the teacher and are trying to get an alternative book/assignment for our daughter that meets the same learning objectives. – LovingParentDavid Sep 25 at 22:29
  • 2
    I want to say that it was the teacher herself (with whom we’ve been sharing our daughter’s struggles) who told us the class novel might be too much for our daughter; and she was very kind to give us an advance copy so we could read it and assess it for ourselves. Indeed, after reading it, we knew it would only add fuel to the fire of our daughter’s issues. So we’re hoping that the teacher will let our daughter do an alternate assignment. – LovingParentDavid Sep 25 at 22:29
  • @Yorik a teacher who doesn't have their students utmost wellbeing as highest priority should be excluded from teaching. You are the client, the teacher is just a passing person who provides the material. – paul23 Sep 27 at 1:31
20

I've had similar reservations about books chosen by my child's teacher, and in every case it's been better to reserve judgement until after the child has at least sampled the book. Some books that I thought was fine have been disturbing to the child and some books I was worried about turned out to be fine. If possible read the book ahead of the child and be prepared for the discussions that will come.

I wouldn't force my child to finish a book they find disturbing, even if the teacher demands that, though. Trust the child and take the fight with the teacher if that happens.

| improve this answer | |
3

When I read your question, my first reaction is "What's wrong with the world today?":
You mention that your child is about twelve years old, and her teacher makes her read a book about children being enslaved into war criminals, children being eaten by lions, bombings, burnings, ... machetes, ...

When I was that age, my teachers let me read books about the wonders of the world, the wonders of nature (books by Walt Disney), and so on. Ok, there was a fictional book about a Roman boy who, as an adult, became a soldier, needed to find an army of slaves, and encountered there his best friend from childhood, who he then understood as "just" having been a slave, and all the corresponding emotional complications, so I did get my share of knowledge about human problems.

You mention your child suffering from anxiety due to the pandemic situation, and I fully understand this: people are dying in mass numbers, due to an invisible enemy that adult people are not even able to fight against, this is obviously disturbing for a child. Add to this a book about the atrocities I've mentioned, it's completely normal for your child having problems like that.

I don't know where you live, but I guess it's not even close to Sudan. So you might say to the teacher that it's ok to let the children learn about other countries and regions in the world, but let the children first learn about the greatness and the beauty of those regions before talking about the atrocities (Sudan was the home of the Kushin and Nubian culture, at least the latter also have created pyramids). Once the children have learnt about the beauty, they can then get the message "... unfortunately the situation has not always been one of great beauty, for instance recently there has been a civil war in Sudan ...".

Good luck

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    I know this answer does not directly address the central question of what should parents do to deal with this situation/teacher, but it brings up important points. The main being there are so much better books to read for young children. Indeed children could read about good thing about Sudan. Or they could read about problems they, and their parents can actually solve or at least address (plastic soup, poverty, inequality) before helplessly reading about horrible things that happened in the past and far away. – Ivana Sep 25 at 11:43
  • @Ivana: you couldn't be more right! – Dominique Sep 25 at 11:46
  • 2
    When I was 12 I was sick to death of books about the wonders of the world. I'm pretty certain I would have loved to read this book then. Everyone is different :) – Muzer Sep 25 at 12:00
  • 5
    I found books like this, and those highlighting heroes and villains of the holocaust etc to be an essential part of growing up, helping me work out what to tolerate and what not to tolerate. My opinion is that learning about good and bad early is highly valuable to avoid our kids growing up without understanding, empathy, or knowledge of history that we want to avoid. – Rory Alsop Sep 25 at 13:21
  • 2
    I feel like your teachers did you a disservice if you weren't being taught these things by 12. 12 years old is about 6th-7th grade and on the verge of becoming a teenager. At this point, you've already had 5-6 grades to learn about wonders of the world, but you do eventually need to learn history, politics, social studies, and the like. And learning all of those things does include learning about war. Learning about WWII without including what the Holocaust was is effectively just learning the 'what' without learning about the 'why'. – Pyrotechnical Sep 25 at 16:56
2

I must say I agree with Joe, about talking to the teacher first.

I can not imagine a teacher that would force reading of certain material onto a child, having trouble with anxiety and the like as you describe.

It should be possible to find a solution, and contact to the teacher should of course be first move.

But, sometimes - if reason fails to work - my approach to the school is also "My word is the law".

The teachers are there to teach, they're doing their best, and I respect their work and effort. But if there are circumstances that I know about and they don't take it serious, I'm not putting my daughter through something I know will be painful and/or unbearable for her, no matter what a teacher say.

| improve this answer | |

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.