Ask Ada: Remote Schooling Might Be Hurting My Son’s Mental Health

Plus: what to do when your family doesn't take your food allergies seriously.

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

Remote School Is Hurting My Son’s Mental Health

Dear Ada,

My son just started school and to say it’s going horribly would be mild. Our current remote option is a mess — he had a sub for the first three days who didn’t even show up to class at times! He’s been assigned work he doesn’t know how to do with no lessons. And never mind the tech! My previously happy 8 year old is now crying every single day, and multiple times. We never ever experienced tantrums before this, but he’s moody too. Actually, he’s pretty mean. It’s only been about a week, but I’m terrified for his mental health. How can I help him? Am I doing the wrong thing by sending him to school? Can I unenroll him? Will this experience scar him for life?

Woah. This is overwhelming to read, so I can’t imagine how tough it must be for you both to experience. I know this might not give you much solace, but know that you aren’t alone. Families all over are adjusting to restarting school in the midst of a pandemic, with so many school districts still struggling to set up systems that meet the needs of their learners.

Here’s the great news: this experience will not scar your son for the rest of his life, especially if you make adjustments now to make this easier on him.

However, figuring out the best course of action may be a rocky road, and it will include you making some tough decisions. Will unenrolling him be better? Would he thrive in a homeschool environment? Can he tough it out temporarily until in-person learning begins?

Right now, meeting your child’s mental health concerns should be your number one priority.

These are questions I cannot answer for you, but it may be helpful to talk through your concerns with your son’s principal, adjustment counselor, and teacher. As difficult as this transition back to school may be for all students, his experience is not appropriate, and the school may be able to help you.

Now, as much as I appreciate the public school system, I do think some kids fall through the cracks and their needs don’t get met. If you’re worried that yours may be one of them, and have the availability to homeschool, this might very well be the best year to test it out and see if it’s something your son will do well with. 

But for right now, meeting your child’s mental health concerns should be your number one priority. It sounds like your son should speak to a trained counselor who can help him work through his feelings so they don’t develop into actions based in rage, depression, or something else just as troubling. Reach out to his school or pediatrician if you don’t know where to start with this process. And, make sure to call in some support reinforcements for yourself, too.

I’m Allergic To Dairy. My Sister-In-Law Tried To Poison Me.

Dear Ada, 

I just found out that my sister-in-law put dairy in a dessert even though she knows I’m allergic to it, because she wanted to “prove” that I’m actually NOT allergic to dairy. I’m outraged! No one would have even told me if I didn’t have a reaction and call each member of the family who brought a dish to my small family cookout to ask if they accidentally used dairy as an ingredient. But when I called my sister-in-law, she owned right up to it, and turned it around on me like I’m making a big deal out of nothing. I was sick for days, and I still don’t feel great. I’ll never trust her again. Even my mom thinks I’m overreacting about this. Am I in the wrong?

You are absolutely not wrong. An allergy is an allergy, and it should always be approached with the utmost caution. Had your allergy been more severe, you could have experienced anaphylaxis — which would have been a very, very, very big deal.

I’m outraged at how flippant your family is being about this situation. Let me be clear: what your sister did was neglectful and dangerous. You are not overreacting. In fact, I recommend you react a little more “loudly” so that your entire family completely understands the severity of this situation.

Talk with the non-guilty partners firmly. Or, maybe I should say talk to these people. They need to be told how serious this issue is, how badly you suffered, and that you won’t tolerate anything like this in the future.

Your family’s reaction tells me that they aren’t taking your allergy seriously enough.

Then, you’ll need to talk with your sister-in-law, if you even want to salvage the relationship. You said that she turned the conversation around on you. I suggest waiting until you physically (and emotionally) feel better, and explain how dangerous her actions were. It may simply be that she needs some education regarding food allergies, and if you can show her how serious they are with some data, while also explaining on a personal level how sick you were, she may apologize. (Though, I’m not sure how much that apology would be worth at this point.)

Moving forward, I would be very wary with what you eat in the future. Your extended family cannot be trusted. Even if this was an isolated incident that only involved your sister-in-law, your family’s lack of reaction tells me that they aren’t taking your allergy seriously enough. If you visit their homes or they visit yours, only eat what you’ve made for yourself. It’s an awful predicament to find yourself in, but your health and safety is more important than a little inconvenience.

Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email and tell us your problem.