Inevitably in the mommy life, you’ll be cruising along, feeling like you finally, MAYBE, just might be getting the hang of this gig, and some situation will come along and completely rain on your parade. The pediatric dentist does it to me every time. Dental hygiene is on the list of things that are important to our family, but we go through seasons where we are more consistent than others. And even though our dentist is completely gracious and encouraging, if any of my kids have cavities (or a baby root canal for my little candy-loving daughter), I feel a huge wave of mommy guilt.
Another situation has come up recently that has thrown me for a loop. I got the dreaded “Note home from the teacher.” As a non-confrontational people-pleaser, this is not fun. I have been a teacher, so I know that on the rainbow chart of behavior, you have to get down to blue or purple before a note is sent home. And I’m completely aware that my oldest child, while smart and kind, is also sassy and silly, and has some serious impulse control issues when it comes to his mouth. (I have NO idea where gets that from!) Starting last year, we began to get emails, notes and calls home from the teachers, informing us that his “witty” comments are poorly timed, sometimes inappropriate, and causing major distractions. All the time.
Now that we have received our share of notes home, and after talking with a few of my elementary school teacher friends, I have moved past the “freeze and panic” response and have found a few more helpful strategies.
1. Don’t take it personally. First of all, your child’s behavior at school is not a measure of your success as a mom. And also, the reason the teacher is contacting you is not to complain or make you (or your child) feel bad. Chances are they truly want your child to be successful, and they are at a point where they need some support from home in order for that to happen. GOOD kids don’t always make GOOD choices, and GOOD parents often don’t have angelic children. It’s just a fact of life. In order to help your child, you need to drop the defenses and move forward with an open mind and collaborative spirit.
2. Talk to your child. It’s best to address the issue with your child quickly. They probably know about the note home and, depending on their disposition, they may be scared of the consequences or immediately defensive and blaming the teacher. Try to guide the conversation with open-ended questions so you can find out their interpretation of the situation at school. You want your child to know that you love them unconditionally and want them to succeed. It is VERY IMPORTANT to model a respectful attitude towards the teacher, even if you disagree with his or her methods. If you don’t respect the teacher, your child will not respect the teacher, which will significantly damage your child’s chance of success in the classroom. Try to find the balance between holding your child to certain behavioral expectations and letting them know you will always support and advocate for them.
3. Communicate with the teacher. Remember this: the teacher is ON YOUR TEAM. Make sure that you are on her team as well. The purpose for contacting you was to INCLUDE you in your child’s progress, not to scold you. Although email is convenient, I’ve found that sometimes a quick face-to-face conversation goes a long way. Use it as an opportunity to tell the teacher more about your child. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your child works best with very clear expectations in writing, or that she is less distracted in the back of the class away from her friends. Maybe he has sensory issues and needs quiet work time during the day.
It was important for me to hear from my son’s teacher that she could see he was attempting to improve his behavior and also that she noticed he does not have a bad attitude, just a self-control issue. It was important for her to hear that we are supporting her efforts at home, working on rewards and consequences as well. The more she sensed our support, the more I noticed she was going out of her way to help my son succeed. Instead of only negative consequences, she quietly implemented a reward system just for him, where she can catch him making good choices. I won’t lie: a surprise chai latte once in a while for Mrs. M is not a bad way to strengthen our good rapport. But if I had fired back defensively after that first email home, we would have gotten nowhere.
4. Follow up. As a parent, you know that challenging behaviors don’t disappear overnight. At dinner, bring it up with your child, and tell them how proud you are of their ongoing effort. Even if you don’t hear anything from the teacher for a few weeks, drop her a quick note to ask how things are going. The parent/teacher/child team effort can be tricky to master, but it can only benefit your student in the long run.
And at the end of the day, remember to give out lots of grace to your kid, the teacher, and yourself. None of us is perfect. And remember to buy some floss, because the kids’ dentist appointment is coming up next month. 😉