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Getting Along With The Other Person In Your Child's Life

By Jill Shugart –

For many years I was both a teacher and a preschool director.  In those days, when the staff would gather informally or at meetings, we would often hold this truth to be self evident:  it is possible to work successfully with any child, as long as you could work successfully with her parents.  What does this mean for us as children approach the beginning of a new school year?

I learned my lesson the hard way.  When my youngest child entered kindergarten, he came home after that first week and said, “Kindergarten is not what it’s supposed to be.”  Perhaps we had built it up to be something larger than life.  Perhaps we had prepared him for excitement and challenges. And perhaps we had expected him to respond as his brother did.  But for whatever the reason, he was not a happy camper.  This is a child who was a star at his nursery school and loved by his teachers.  It took us by surprise.  I found myself responding by being annoyed at his kindergarten teachers for not giving him enough attention, for not adoring him and seeing him as special, and for not challenging his supreme intelligence. 
Finally after several months of this, my child development background kicked in.  I realized that I was an obstacle to my son’s enjoying school.  By not fully supporting the teachers and by blaming the school for his unhappiness, I was preventing him from bonding with the teachers and adjusting to the environment.  Children will be loyal to their parents, and if they pick up that you are dissatisfied with the situation, they will be dissatisfied, too.  My strategy was to turn this around and become an advocate and a cheerleader for the classroom and the school.  And when I began to do this, things changed on a dime.  His attitude shifted, and he finally adjusted to and enjoyed kindergarten.
You have probably already encountered a variety of teachers or you will soon.  Some of them are going to be amazing, and under their guidance, you will watch your children thrive.  Some will just be ordinary.  And perhaps one or two will cause you genuine concern.  But for the next 10 months, you are going to be dealing with the “other” woman or man in your children’s lives.  Here are some tips for making that relationship work well:
1)   Adopt this mantra:  “My child can flourish in a good enough classroom with good enough teachers.  He does not need conditions to be exceptional.” This is based on the sound research of Donald Winnicott, the British psychoanalyst and pediatrician, who coined the term “good enough parent.”  He found that children thrive when their environmental conditions are adequate and they don’t need them to be any more than that.  This mantra can save you much pain and suffering and I highly recommend it.
2)   Get to know your child’s teacher and introduce her to your child.  Tell teachers what they need to know in order to best serve and teach your child.  This includes such information as “my child gets embarrassed easily” or “has a hard time speaking in front of the class,” or “has a fear of taking tests,” or “balks at doing homework.”  By communicating this information early on, you are setting the tone for collaboration and a dialogue between home and school.
3)   Keep teachers informed of the family stressors which impact your child.   Any new transition….a death, a divorce, a move, a loss of a job….hugely affects children.   It helps teachers to know about these so they can watch for behavioral signs, respond with sensitivity, and make any necessary accommodations.
4)   Respect your teacher’s private life.  Technology puts us very much in touch with each other through cell phones, email and texts, but don’t expect teachers to be on call to reassure you and answer questions at all times. Most teachers are happy to respond to parents' questions and concerns, but unhappy when these requests interfere with their personal time and obligations.  Respect this by setting up conference times during their school hours, and asking them to answer you when it is convenient for them to do so.  Refrain from asking them to respond to you in middle of teaching children, too!
5)   Be interested in the picture your teacher paints of your child.  Your child at school is often a very different being than he is at home.  Being a member of a group is a different skill set than being on a one-on-one play date or being in the safety of a family.  If you are hearing about behavior that sounds foreign to you, be curious.   Don’t assume that the teacher is clueless or to blame for the behavior.  Instead, ask yourself what the behavior may mean, and work with the teacher, not against her, to understand it and solve it.
6)   When your child complains about a teacher, recognize the value in learning to deal with people we don’t always like.  Just like us, our children are going to be confronted with difficult bosses, co-workers and friends.  Sometimes you need to do things the teacher’s way, just as we often have to do it our boss’s way.  It is an important life skill to develop.  You can validate your child’s experience and empathize with him, and at the same time, encourage him to find things he likes about the class and to follow the teacher’s rules.   The key here is to listen to your child’s feeling and help him understand that things and people are not  black and white.  There can be things that he likes about a teacher or school, or doesn’t like, all at the same time.
7)   If your child brings home some information that disturbs you, do check it out with your teacher.  Remember that you don’t have the whole picture, and the piece your child is reporting may be out of context.  Make an appointment with the teacher and let him know what your child is saying and ask to hear his version of the story.  Rather than accuse, think of this conversation as way to share information and come up with a solution.
8)   Develop a habit of thanking your teachers for all the work they do and their effort on your child’s behalf.  I have received a whole lot of teacher gifts in my career, but the ones I treasured most, and still have in a file, are the notes I received, specifically acknowledging me for my teaching and the impact I made on a child. These are true gifts.  Other gifts, of course, are your participation in the classroom, on field trips, or with projects.  These help you know your child’s teacher as a person, and are money in the bank when a problem arises and you need to work together to solve it.