Why You Should Think Twice Before Calling Your Kid’s Teacher This Year
All summer my son had been talking about it: The fun he was going to have with his two best friends when they ended up in the same first grade class. They’d met the first day of kindergarten, become inseparable, and no matter how many times we’d had the conversation about the randomness of class assignments, Zachary was convinced he’d end up with his two BFFs and all would be well in his world.
Finally the day of the back-to-school picnic arrived. We ran to the wall where the class assignments were posted. “Sam, you’re with Aiden!” Sam’s mom said, which meant not only that my son wasn’t in either of his buddies’ classes, but that they were together in the same class – without Zachary. “Am I in that class, Mommy?” Zachary asked excitedly. “Am I?”
My stomach lurched. His name wasn’t there. I scanned the list several times to make sure I hadn’t overlooked anything. “Mom, am I with Sam and Aiden?” my son asked again, as Sam and Aiden chimed in. “What class is Zachary in?” they asked. The three of them stared at me expectantly, waiting to hear.
“Oh, look,” I said to Zachary, as casually as possible. “You’re in Ms. Fisher’s class!”
My son’s face fell. The three boys glanced at one another uncomfortably, before Sam and Aiden ran off to play. Zachary didn’t move. His lower lips trembled. I waited for the tears. I prepared for the massive let-down. I rehearsed in my head how first I would empathize with his feelings, then try to put a positive spin on the whole thing: he’d meet new friends, he’d still see his buddies at recess every day, he’d …
He was gone. He’d run off to play with Sam and Aiden. When he came back, there was a smile on his face. Apparently, he’d done some reconnaissance. “I’m in the big classroom!” he told me. “And there are three good basketball players in my class! It’s going to be so much fun!”
The rest of the day, Zachary played happily, but I waited for the disappointment to set in. I thought about how hard this year would be for him and figured it was only a matter of time before he came to the same conclusion. Finally, at bedtime, we talked about the class assignments. Yes, he was bummed not to be with his BFFs, but the situation wasn’t as bad as he imagined when we’d discussed this possibility all summer long. He was resilient – embarrassingly, more so than I was.
As a therapist, I hear from teachers all the time about anxious parents who jump in and try to “fix” things whenever something doesn’t go their kid’s way. I understand the impulse. It’s hard to see our kids struggle, especially if we have the ability to make it better. But when we try to intervene, the message we’re sending our kids is that we don’t believe they can handle an imperfect world. And if they, too, start to believe this, they’re going be completely ill-equipped when things don’t go their way in college and beyond, and when we’re no longer there to smooth things over for them. When they’re little and we fix things for them that don’t need fixing, they’ll feel incompetent. When they’re teenagers and we do so, they’ll feel both incompetent and angry.
Teachers often tell me how surprised they are to see parents bring forgotten lunch boxes or homework to school instead of letting their kids handle the consequences and learn from the experience. They talk about how parents try to micromanage a bad grade, a comment made at recess, a school play role not gotten. Then they recount all the growth they’ve seen in their students when parents have trusted teachers to handle the incidents accordingly, which is to say, talking with kids about their struggles and being available for guidance, then stepping back and letting them figure it out themselves.
So as the new school year begins, let’s all remember how resourceful, competent and resilient our kids really are. Let’s take a breath and think twice before calling the teacher the minute our kids experience a bit of discomfort. Then let’s marvel at how well our kids handle their lives when we show them how strongly we believe in their ability not only to survive certain challenges, but to thrive in the face of them.