By Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman
"I hate school."
"Geography is boring."
"My teacher is mean."
"I want to stay home today."
"School is a waste of time."
So, your child hates school, thinks it's boring, or feels the teacher is mean. An interesting situation you have there. What are you going to do about it? What are you going to say? It doesn't matter if your child is in first grade, middle school or eleventh-grade English Literature. A response from you is required. Do you know what that response will be? If not, here are some suggestions to help you and your child move through this not uncommon situation.
Don't try to talk them out of their strong feelings.
"You've only had this teacher for eight weeks. Give her a chance."
"You don't really mean that."
"It will get better. Just hang in there."
"It's not a waste of time. It's preparing you for college."
Attempting to reassure them, convince them they are not feeling what they’re feeling, or help them see this situation from your point of view is not helpful. It tells children their feelings are not important and that you understand them better than they understand themselves. Neither of those is true.
Do lead with empathy.
Honor your child's feelings by beginning with an empathetic response.
"It must be tough to be in a place when it seems like a waste of time."
"Darn, sitting for an hour in a boring class must seem like a long time."
"You have strong feelings about how that teacher handles things."
Do grant in fantasy what you won't in reality.
Child: "I don't want to go to school today."
Parent: "That would be fun. You could pretty much do whatever you wanted. I wish you could have a day like that, too." (Grants the fantasy) "You're going to have to wait for Saturday for that. Today is a school day. The bus will be here in fifteen minutes." (States the reality)
Do say, "Tell me more."
Your goal here is to get more information to see if you can determine the reasons behind your child’s concern. What you learn will help you decide what parenting move to make next. She may hate school because she has few friends. Maybe two classmates are bullying him on the bus. Maybe this teacher is different from the last one and the child is not sure of the new system yet. You will base your next parenting action on the response you get from "Say some more," "Keep talking," or "Explain that a bit."
Don't dismiss what your child said just because it came from a child.
The teacher might in fact be mean. Geography might be excruciatingly boring. Your child may truthfully hate school. He might be right.
Do check it out.
Make no assumptions. Increase your data base. Talk to other parents. See if their children are having similar concerns. When you have a minivan full of your child's friends, ask, "What is your favorite part of geography class?" Be still and listen to the conversation. Say, "Tell me more about Mr. Wilson." Your passengers are likely to be less inhibited that your own child. Let them do most of the talking.
Don’t take what your child said at face value just because he or she is your child.
Widen your base of information by talking with the teacher. Keep an open mind. You may get new information here. You will surely get a new perspective. Your daughter may be experiencing the class as boring because she refuses to become fully engaged in the activities. Your son may dislike this teacher because she held him accountable for inappropriate behaviors.
Do visit school.
Make an appointment. Sit outside the door. Spend time in the classroom. Eat in the lunchroom. Check out recess. The more information you can get about your child's day, the better your chance of being able to create a plan with her to overcome the hurdle she is facing.
Do inform your child of any decision you make to talk to the teacher or observe their classroom.
Keep them in the loop so there are no big surprises here.
Don't keep what you learned to yourself.
Share that information with your child. Listen to his reactions. See if you can reach consensus on determining the exact nature of the problem. Get clear on the real problem before you engage in solution-seeking.
Do mutually create a plan to implement a solution.
Perhaps your child needs to be taught how to speak up and ask for help when she is confused. Maybe you need to teach her to respectfully say, "I don't like it when you talk so loud. It feels like you're yelling." It might be that learning how to make and maintain friends is called for. You won't know which solution is most appropriate until you get an accurate picture of the real problem. Create a plan and practice it. Role-play if necessary.
Do debrief with your child during implementation of the solution.
"How did it go today?"
"What surprised you about working your plan?"
"Does any part of it need to be tweaked?"
"What was most difficult?"
"Tell me a positive that resulted."
Do debrief with the teacher during implementation of the solution.
"Did you notice any change in Richard's behavior today?"
"What parts seem to be helping?"
"What piece do you think he could improve on?"
"How would you compare his effort this week to that of last week?"
Do request a change of teacher or class schedule if necessary.
You have a right to do this. However, we recommend that this be a last-resort maneuver. Exhaust all the other possibilities first. Help the teacher learn what works best for your child. Or help your child learn how to work with the teacher. Get ideas from the school administrator. If the situation continues and you are convinced that this situation is hurting your child, have him or her removed from the situation.
Do share your appreciation when things go well.
Do this with your child, the teacher, and the school administrator.
"Thank you for the suggestions you offered for helping Carmen with the bus seating situation. Things seem to be settling down, and she looks forward to school again."
"Working that plan, Carmen, looks like it created more friends for you. Searching for solutions, creating a plan of action, and following through created a much happier situation for all of you. You did it!"
"I appreciate your willingness to listen without taking things personally. That attitude is one of the main reasons we were able to find a mutually agreed upon plan of action. Thank you."
Do pat yourself on the back for implementing as many of these ideas as you needed to help your child experience more success in school and in life.
Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman are the authors of The Only 3 Discipline Strategies You Will Ever Need. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free Uncommon Parenting blog. To obtain more information about how they can help you or your group meet your parenting needs, visit their website today: www.uncommon-parenting.com.