Friday, September 5, 2014

“I don’t want to go to school!”

These words can punch you in the stomach leaving you queasy all day long.  How do you know if this is a “slow to warm up” typical reaction for your child, a desperate siren call commanding you to snatch him from the abyss of a terrible classroom, or time to teach him how to work with difficult people?

There is a saying that when you hear hoof beats think horses – not zebras.

Your child’s lament may break your heart and make you late for work, but be careful not to immediately leap to the “worst case scenario.”   Before any problem can be solved it’s essential that you fully understand it.  Take time to truly listen to your child.  (Recent statistics demonstrate we only do this about 30% of the time.)  

Ask questions which require more than a “yes” or “no” reply, such as:

“What do you not like about school?”
“Did someone say something that hurt your feelings?”  
“Was someone mean to you? “ 
“Did something scare you?”  

It may take more than one conversation, but continue coming back to the topic until you hear the deep sigh, see shoulders relax and an expression on your child’s face that clearly communicates, “You’ve got it!  You understand!  Thank you!”  

If your child is not a “talker” but is able to read and write a journal that you share might be the perfect tool to “discuss” the concerns.  If neither are working it’s time to go to school and observe for yourself what’s happening.  If a parent is not allowed in the classroom then simply walk your child to the door and stand in the hallway for a few minutes.  

Watch your child enter.  Do other children and the teacher greet him?  Listen to the words and tone of the teacher.  If you hear shaming, contempt or bullying statements, walk from the classroom to the principal’s office.  Find out if he or she is aware of what’s going on in the classroom.  If not, repeat what you have heard and describe what has been observed.  Keep it factual and verbatim.   Ask what will be done about it.  When Sarah, a parent we talked with recently, did this she was surprised to learn the principal was unaware.  But once he was, he took action.  Within the week the teacher was replaced.  

But sometimes things are not clearly black and white.

The teacher is stern, but not mean or cruel.  Expectations are high, but not unrealistic.  Policies are strict, but fair.  Directions are a bit fuzzy, but provided.  While it’s not the warmest atmosphere it’s not destructive in any way.  If you have a highly sensitive child it’s true that this is not a perfect “fit.”  However, learning to cope and thrive in the world at large which is frequently only “good enough” is an essential life skill.  Avoidance actually can make tough situations worse.  Supported practice makes them better.  

Rein yourself in.  Rather than going after the teacher step back and teach your child how to manage the situation.

If she’s struggling with directions brainstorm how she might ask for clarification. 
If the tone of voice disturbs her identify other people she knows who love her, but are gruff curmudgeons; harmless despite their crusty demeanor and even potential “teddy bears” when you really get to know them.  
If rules feel too “strict” explore openings for discussing changes.  
Problems may be addressed with a list of potential solutions.  

It’s inevitable in life that your child will run into a “difficult” boss, colleague, peer, roommate or neighbor.
By starting now during your child’s early years you can prepare her for those tough times.  Identify the problem, brainstorm solutions, practice together and celebrate successes.  It does take longer than handling the situation yourself, but the positive results and sense of competence your child experiences endure and protect for a lifetime.