There is nothing more fear-inducing than hearing your phone ring and feeling like the bottom just dropped out of your stomach when you recognise the number...
You pick it up to find that it's your child's school and there's a problem which essentially boils down to this: your child's behaviour has resulted in concerns being raised by several teachers and which now requires action from the parent(s) ie. you...
Although simplified, it's THAT phone call that most parents dread - the immediate reaction is to want to defend your child but, at the same time, there's that little voice in the back of your head is telling you that maybe (possibly) there's more to the story... So, how best to tackle it?
Your child has on occasion voiced the opinion that they think their teacher doesn't like them and therefore, during that phone call you could be forgiven for assuming that they were right, however, that would most likely be doing the teacher, your child and you a disservice.
Having that conversation with them can be a bit of a minefield - how far should you push on either end to resolve the issue?
A balance needs to be found between your child's claims, their behaviour and their teacher's concerns about said conduct (which obviously prompted the phone call in the first place).
If you are fed up of feeling like you've been caught on the hop each time your child tries to draw you into another "Teacher hates me" conversation, here are a few tips to try to diffuse the situation:
1. Challenge their Faulty Thinking:
Whichever way we would like to spin it, there is, of course, the chance that your child's teacher really doesn't like them and is making it a problem during school time.
Be that as it may, before that can be established as fact, you will need to sit your child down and have a conversation with them about what has been happening.
Try to challenge any misconceptions that they may have of the teacher(s) and instead try to challenge their negative thoughts about school into something positive; have them describe a good experience they have had with the teacher in question.
2. Encourage Positive Self-Talk:
It's one thing to challenge your child's faulty thinking but it's also just as important that they start talking positively about school in general (about situations, tasks, others and themselves) - not only will the teacher(s) notice and be far more likely to want to work with them, consistently encouraging positive talk + self-talk could be the thing that turns resistance into excitement about going to school.
3. Eliminate All-or-Nothing Thinking:
The term "all-or-nothing thinking" is where a person's thought patterns are only either/or. In other words, there is no middle ground and that can have devastating consequences when it comes to your child's school experiences.
For example: Your child believes that their teacher hates them because they didn't get the grade they wanted on their latest math test.
What does being average at math mean? Well, according to your child who thinks like this, it means that the teacher hates them... At least during school time, anyway!
It doesn't take much of a leap to assume that your child will start thinking like this in other areas of their life at school (and when they get home), if left to their own devices.
Encourage them to see the good in everything and everyone and to not just focus on one thing/person/situation that's upset them; rather than focusing on what went wrong during math time - try to focus on what they did right ? Were there any parts of the test that were a positive experience?
Have an open conversation about how it might be possible that maybe something wasn't working as well as could have been expected... By finding specific examples from each area of their day-to-day life where things didn't go quite according to plan, you can help them learn how not everything is a disaster and that most things they do will have some sort of positive element in it.
This might sound like an easy thing to say but the truth is children often don't realise this unless we make sure they're aware - sometimes by challenging their thoughts on something happening right now.
4. Focus on Skill Building:
This might seem a little counter-intuitive when it comes to your child's concerns about their teacher but by focusing on skill building in everything they do, you can help them understand that making mistakes is part of the learning process - and nothing makes this clearer than seeing someone else being open and honest about not knowing something.
Find opportunities for conversations where your child can see others who are just as good at what they're doing (ie: sports people) if not better... But because these other kids have been willing to work hard with coaches/trainers from an early age, they've been able to develop those skills over time too.
By encouraging our children to take responsibility for themselves and find ways in which we can all support one another in working on areas that need improvement, we can build confidence in the process.
5. Set a Goal:
If your child is open to it, sit down with them and ask if there's something they'd like to improve on - doesn't even have to be an academic goal. It could be anything from "I want to make more friends", "I want my teacher(s) ____" or even just wanting the teacher(s) in question to smile at them when they walk into class. Whatever their reason for feeling this way about school - the important thing here is that you're helping them set a positive intention around what can feel like an overwhelming experience of going to school.
Setting goals (no matter how big or small) will help your kids develop strategies for dealing with situations/people who are challenging while also being a step in the right direction for how they can improve their overall experience at school.
6. Examine Your Child’s Role in the Interaction:
Staying positive during difficult times is easier said than done! Especially when you're hearing about the same negative experiences over and over again.
But it's even harder for children, who tune out what they don't want to hear or haven't found a way of processing their thoughts/emotions in relation to whatever situation has happened (good OR bad).
Encourage them to think like an adult by asking questions like: "Is there anything that I could be doing differently?"; "Do you feel as though this might not have happened if we were talking more often? If so - can we try something different now?"; "What do I need to change around here?".
By teaching your kids how important it is that adults are open to change and willing to try new things when it comes to their kids' lives, you can help them develop a more positive self-perception in the process.
By focusing on what your child is doing well rather than not - they'll start feeling better about themselves from an early age which will make going through school an easier experience overall.
Now that we have discussed how to start the conversation with your child, it's time to cover how to have that same talk with your child's teacher. Here are 6 tips on how to best approach the situation:
- Make some notes about the things you would like to discuss with your child's teacher; what are you hoping to achieve in your meeting? One very useful tip would be to forward your notes (in some form) to the teacher in advance - that way, no one is walking into this with a fear of being ambushed.
Share Your Point-of-View
- If you feel nervous about meeting the teacher (for example, you do not want to inconvenience the instructor with your busy schedule), self-conscious (you are concerned that you will appear over-protective), or insecure (you are unsure of the best approach to address the problem), be honest and disclose it.
- Ask about how staff-student relational problems are handled in the teacher's classroom and at school.
- A two-way street of communication between parents and teachers should exist. You'll get information from the meeting, however you must also be able to offer insight in return. Describe how often (daily, weekly, once per semester) your child claims that the teacher does not like them; offer details on when (early in the semester, before the weekend, after tests, etc.) your child makes their claim. Any information/insight you are able to offer will help - two-way street, remember?
- Ask both yourself and the teacher: "How can I help?" - some sort of brainstorming session could prove invaluable for all parties.
Discuss a Post-Meeting Plan
- How will you follow up? Will you contact the teacher or vice versa? Make a decision about how you and the teacher will assess progress and be clear about what level of development is acceptable.
It is equally hard for a child and their parents to recognise their faults and change the way they think. However, it can be done with some communication and cooperation from all parties.
If you want your children to have better self-esteem or learn skills that will make them successful in life, then encouraging positive thinking may be one of the best things you can do as a parent.
Remember, it's not just what we say but also how we say it that sends our children messages about themselves all day long...