What to Do When Your Child Clashes With a Teacher



Classroom Web

It can be hard to keep your cool if you see that your child is upset in a new classroom. But it’s crucial to hold off on making snap judgments about a teacher.

Your child’s new teacher may have a personality and philosophy that seem to be a perfect fit for your young learner or they could be a complete mismatch. If so, there are some things you can all do to improve the situation, says Ann Lagges, Ph.D., pediatric psychologist at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. Here, her helpful tips.

Give it time

It can be hard to keep your cool if you see that your child is upset in a new classroom. But it’s crucial to hold off on making snap judgments about a teacher. “Every teacher has a different style, so I always say that kids need to give it at least a couple of weeks to a month to try to get used to a new style,” says Lagges. In other words, just because Mrs. Smith is not as warm and cuddly as Mrs. Jones from last year, this does not mean that Mrs. Smith is a bad teacher. Once your child gets to know her new teacher, your kiddo may grow to understand, and even like, her style.

“The exception to this, however, is if it’s not just a simple personality or teaching style conflict, but instead, if the teacher is being cruel and doing things such as public shaming, name calling, laughing at your child’s weaknesses, making fun of ethnic or religious backgrounds, or singling your child out for special punishments,” says Lagges. “Then you need to intervene immediately.” She suggests talking to the teacher first. If that proves unhelpful, ask for a meeting with the administration.

Verify your child’s report

How do you know if your child’s impression of the situation is accurate—especially if he’s not extremely communicative, or tends to exaggerate, or is younger than third grade and has less experience in classrooms? “I always tell parents to investigate a little bit before marching into the teacher,” says Lagges. Start by asking your child detailed questions about what goes on in the classroom. Also, consider asking other parents what they’ve heard. They may have dealt with this teacher with older siblings, and their experiences could help round out the picture for you. Another option is to ask to be a classroom helper for the day so that you can see the situation firsthand. “Teachers often encourage parent participation, especially in younger grades,” says Lagges. “If an elementary school teacher doesn’t let you have access to the classroom, that’s a red flag.”

View this as a growth opportunity

Help your child interpret the teacher’s actions and words. “For young children you can make comparisons to people they know,” says Lagges. “You might say, ‘your teacher this year is a little more like your uncle. It’s sometimes hard to tell if he’s joking or serious.’ Or ‘your teacher may be like our neighbor who seems like he’s yelling but he just has a loud voice.’” A little explanation and reassurance may be all it takes to help your child feel more comfortable with this new person.

This is also a chance for your child to learn that different people have different expectations. For instance, your daughter’s first grade teacher may not have been strict about tardiness, while his second grade teacher is. The lesson? Adapt. Rise to the expectation and work hard to be on time. Your child will have to hone the skill of learning to work with (and for) others throughout his life as he interacts with various teachers, peers, coaches, and bosses.

Let your teacher know about any special needs

While you don’t want to jump in to solve all problems for your child, if he has a special circumstance, such as a diagnosis of ADHD, anxiety, or another learning issue, alert the teacher sooner rather than later. “It’s hard for anybody to interact with a child if they don't know what’s going on,” says Lagges. “If a kid is anxious and not getting his work done, the teacher could interpret this as laziness and respond by pushing harder, when what your child really may need is for the teacher to back off. But if the teacher doesn’t know this, she’ll have to guess.”

Eliminate the guesswork for the teacher, and explain what she needs to know about your child as early in the school year as possible. And ask if you could work together to find the best accommodations for your child’s needs. “Give the teacher a heads up, and instead of making demands, suggest you put your heads together,” says Lagges. “The vast majority of teachers are doing this because they want to educate.” If needed, you could also ask your child’s psychologist or doctor to write a note to the teacher explaining your child’s strengths and weaknesses—and possible classroom strategies. Also, remember that you don’t need to limit your contact with the teacher to official parent-teacher conferences. “If anything comes up throughout the year, keep the lines of communication open,” says Lagges.

-- By Rachel Rabkin Peachman