William had a horrible day at school. He comes in the door, slams his bag on the floor and starts to tell you what happened.
“There’s a new boy in my class…and the teacher sat him right next to me! The new boy took my pencil, he punched my arm like 100 times, and swore at another kid during math!”
By now, you’re getting an idea of how frustrating that must have been. But then, he continues…
“And the teacher didn’t do anything! I tried to get her attention, but she didn’t even care! She just ignored me!”
Now, you’re angry. How dare the teacher not intervene!?
Within minutes, your drafting an email to the teacher, giving her a piece of your mind.
What’s a Parent to Do?
It’s not always easy to know how to handle school challenges. It could be trouble with a peer, a poor grade on a project, or a detention slip.
When it seems unfair, some parents tend to…overreact.
They immediately get on the phone with the teacher. They head to the office and meet with the principal. They call the other student’s parents.
It seems like the best way to get your child out of a challenging situation.
Unfortunately, it leaves your child out of the equation. Instead of preparing them to handle the situation differently next time, it sends the message, “This is too big for you, you need mom to do it for you.”
Equip Your Child
One of the most powerful tools in your parenting toolbox is your willingness to include your child in a problem-solving discussion. Working together to find a solution to a problem gives your child an opportunity to think critically and come up with other ways to respond.
- Listen and empathize: Give your child a few minutes to vent. Don’t interrupt their pleas of “It’s not fair!” or “It wasn’t my fault!” If possible, find a way to say, “yeah, that felt unfair” or “wow, that must have been frustrating!”
- Don’t point the finger: Try to create a timeline of events without judging your child, teacher or peers. What happened first, then what happened, how did they respond. Is there any information missing?
- Assume it will happen again: Plan for the worst. No parent wants to put their child back into a tough situation, but chances are, your child will be in a difficult situation again in the future.
- Explore the options: Brainstorm ways that your child can respond, who your child can talk to and when to ask for more help. Then, role play together, using different situations and taking different perspectives.
- Know when to intervene: Respond immediately if you feel that someone’s safety is at risk. If your child has tried to solve the problem, but nothing has changed, or it’s getting worse, it may be time to step in for them.
- Repeat the above steps with school professionals: Continue to have an attitude of collaboration when meeting with teachers or principals. Include your child in the brainstorming meetings, if appropriate.
Set the plan in motion
William and his parents talked about his difficulties with the new boy at school. Together, they created a step-by-step plan for him to use when the other boy’s actions affected him, his personal space or his belongings. They talked about school professionals and how they can provide support.
The new boy continued to have challenges in the classroom, but William felt more confident knowing he had a plan.
And the best part, he didn’t need his parents to solve the problem for him!