How do you say what a parent doesn’t want to hear?

A few weeks ago I had a very uncomfortable conversation with a mother of one of my kindergarten students. During the school day her child was involved in four separate incidents where he needed reminders to calm down, to play safely, respect his classmates and teachers. ( An example: This child was threatening to stab a classmate with scissors and then ran away when asked by our teacher assistant to put the scissors down). I explained to the child I would need to talk his mother about this after school.
So, when I shared what had happened, instead of supporting me, the mother sat her child on her lap, gave him a big cuddle, and then glared at me and said, “He is only 5 and you expect him to behave like an adult!” She accused me of “always picking on her child” and then continued to say: “You wouldn’t know because you haven’t got any children of your own.”This comment has been on playing on my mind ( and replaying over and over again)! Yes, it is true. I have never been a parent so I don’t really know what  it feels like to have such a strong bond/ love for one child. However, I have been teaching young children for over 30 years now, and think I do know when a child ‘stands out’ as being a little extra special and I believe it is my duty to communicate honestly with the parents of children I teach.

I connect with Victoria Prooday ‘s perspective that there is a silent tragedy developing right now, in our homes, and it concerns our most precious jewels – our children  What are we doing to our children 

I wish I had seen Prooday’s article earlier ! She says: “Today’s children are being deprived of the fundamentals of a healthy childhood…..Instead, children are being served with….

  • Indulgent parents who let kids “Rule the world”,
  • Sense of entitlement rather than responsibility,
  • Endless stimulation, technological babysitters, instant gratification, and absence of dull moments

Do you agree? What is the perspective of teacher parents vs teachers who have not had children?

Right now I’m thinking about the Reggio Emilia ‘Image of child‘ concept. In Reggio Emilia, the ‘image of a child’ views young children as strong, capable, competent, and full of potential. However, in this particular case I feel the parent of this 5 year old has a very different image of her child compared to mine. This leads me to wonder:  How does a parents’ image of a child influence how the child learns? and What if the parent’s image of child differs greatly from the teachers?

In reference to the IBPYP ‘Learner Agency’, I’m keen to find out more. How do other Early Years educators help children of ‘indulgent parents’, the ones who ‘stand out’ as needing extra support to develop resilience, self management skills and social and emotional skills.

So, to my experienced fellow #IBrebelalliance educators in my #PLN. I’d love to know what you think.  How do you say what a parent doesn’t want to hear?

3 thoughts on “How do you say what a parent doesn’t want to hear?

  1. We were JUST having this conversation this afternoon–how parents are keen to attack the teacher rather than value their perspective when it comes to disciplining their child. Ugh!! As an early years teacher, it is our duty to create a safe learning environment and it is so paramount for parents to understand that we have this obligation. It really depends on the parent, but personally, I try to speak about these matters from a really calm place, almost nonchalantly, like ” Today I was so surprised that so-and-so tried to stab a friend with scissors. I really felt disappointed by his choice and I tried to explain how that sort of behavior makes his other friends feel so nervous. I really don’t want this sort of behavior to affect his friendships. (Parents really appreciate this!) As you can imagine, other children in the class want to feel safe around him. I wonder what you do at home that helps him remember to be safe around friends. It would be nice if we could have the same sort of message, so I’m just so curious what you do”. I would totally throw it back at the parent “expert”. At the end of the day, it’s not about who’s “right” in their approach, it’s about extinguishing the negative behavior and finding ways to cooperate. Hope this helps.

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  2. I was teaching art when I heard the same comment from a parent, “If you had children, you would understand.” I didn’t know so much about empathy at that point – at least not by name – but her words struck a chord as a single, childless teacher. What comeback do you have? I now have children and it is with gritted teeth that I can empathize with this woman in your story and in mine. It is (for me) different being a teacher with children. But what you’re writing about is exactly what I would want a teacher of my child to talk with me about. I find one of the potential challenges when balancing agency and school is that schools are not inherently geared toward agentic learning. If the child was obsessed with paper cutting, crafting, making – that would be one thing. But when a child is using scissors as a weapon that goes beyond student agency. The other kids in your care have an expectation that they can come and go from school without being stabbed. I think the two things – agency and safety – are separate. Our head of primary is really ‘gifted’ in the art of the difficult conversation. If I were to guess, I would say that she would begin the meeting with the parent by having them talk about their child. You are right that parents know their kids best, so let them talk. We love to talk about our kids. Let us tell you everything about them. And just listen. Really listen. And when we feel that you might have begun to see them the way we do, we will be more open to hearing about what you see. Listen. Listen twice as much as you talk. That’s my best advice.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing your experience. I think this is part of a bigger issue, namely, parent/teacher partnership. The parent/teacher relationship is crucial, especially in early childhood. I recommend this blog post by Richard Curwin that explores some of these issues -https://www.edutopia.org/blog/parent-teacher-collaboration-richard-curwin In particular he describes the dumping of children’s behaviour on parents and on teachers by the other party.

    I have “dumped” student issues on parents. Parents have dumped them on me. It doesn’t feel good to get dumped on. Based on her reaction it seems like this mom might feel like you dumped on her. 🙂 I have consciously been putting more effort into building stronger partnerships with students’ parents this school year by trying the strategies described by Curwin. It made more work for me at the start of the year but it has been worth it when difficult issues such as safety and conflict have occurred (as they also seem to occur in Kindergarten!) Maybe you do this already, I don’t know.

    Some parents have been difficult to partner with and perhaps they fit the profile from Prooday’s article. However my relationship with these parents has been gradually built into one where we can share our perspectives and feel like we are really listening to each other and working together for the good of their child and the safety of the class.

    It is not easy! You are not alone.

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