Hello new school year!  My how I missed you! The children missed you too- at least your initial “newness”, including a new teacher!

Every year, most parents worry about the teacher their child will get. Questions such as, “Will they be nice?”  “Are they competetent?”  “Will they be a good influence?”  cross our minds.  Some of us may even begin to reflect back on the teachers we experienced:  “Oh, Ms. Aames was SO NICE” or “My goodness that Mr. Silver was SO Disgusting!”  (Real teachers of mine.. J )   Mostly we just cross our fingers, hope for the best, and begin to make plans for what we will do if something does go wrong.

In all seriousness, this has been a difficult post to write.  I thought it would be relatively easy, but after talking it through with a few teachers, my husband, and myself, I realized that there are too many variables that come into play here.

Initially I was trying to define a “Challenging” teacher- were they the yellers, the shamers, the ignorers?  And then I realized that what might be acceptable behavior for my FAMILY may not be acceptable for yours. Each potential issue is personal– based on our own biases, experiences, and values.  So I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t able to give guidelines across the board.

The second thing that I tried to define was which CHILDREN were capable of handling a challenging teacher on their own.  Could I pick an age when they should be able to handle it?  Shouldn’t high-schoolers be more capable than a 1st grader?  You might think so, but I was reminded of the vast differences in maturity, development, temperament, capability and more.  So I couldn’t really define that either…

And the third piece that came into play was US.  How comfortable are we in allowing our children to handle these challenges?  There is a wide variation between parents.   While I may be ok with having my 1st grader discuss missing work with her teacher that may not be something that is ok with you.  In essence, my parenting style may be different from your parenting style.

So, how do we help our children tackle a challenging teacher?  All children will be up against this at some point, so how do we assist them in surviving it?

One of the best ways to begin is to ask ourselves the question:  Is this something I can and want to teach my child to handle on their own or do I need to get involved?   Why would we consider not getting involved?  Because the benefits of learning problem solving, developing resilience and capability, and getting one’s needs met in a healthy way are immeasurable.    

Believe it or not, children as young as age 4 can be empowered to solve challenges.  And one of the best ways to not only get “all the information” to make your “can they handle it” determination, but to also empower and include, is to ask a lot of “curiosity” questions.

In a calm and non-judgmental tone ask:  “What happened? And “Then what happened?” and “Who said what?” and “Who did what?”, and finally, if you determine they can handle it, “What do you think might be some solutions to this problem?”  “How can you work this out?”   And “Do you need some help coming up with a solution? “

But let’s say that you want to move beyond curiosity questions and into even more empowerment.  Let’s say that your goal is to grow a child to handles these challenges on their own; maybe not right now, but moving towards the end goal.  Here are a few suggestions that can set them up for high school, college and beyond:

  1. Role play with them how to approach a teacher.  What to say, how to say it.  How to handle potential negative reactions.
  2. Teach them how to use positive self-talk if necessary.  “I can do this.”  “I am safe”, “I am OK”.
  3. Teach them about using “I” statements when speaking.  “I feel nervous and scared when you yell all the time.”  “I feel hurt when you put me or my classmates down.”  “I feel angry when you embarrass me in front of my friends.”
  4. Encourage them to “try it”.  This may be a gradient process.  First you are there with the teacher doing the talking, then both of you are doing the talking, then just him/her with you, then him/her alone.
  5. Support them through it.  There is value in trying and failing.   If a child is taking a risk, they need our help and support to get through it if it doesn’t work out exactly as they had hoped.  We can help by focusing on what they learned from trying not from the perfect outcome.  Statements such as, “What did you learn?”  “What could you do different next time?”  “Good for you for being brave and trying it!” go a long way!
  6. And finally, give them opportunities to practice being forthcoming and direct. Family meetings are a great way to do this!

The key here is balancing your connection with the development of the self-sufficiency tools they’ll need in adulthood.  Letting them know that you support them and “have their back” will create an environment where “stretching” can occur.

Hope it helps!