A little girl came home from school and said to her mother, “Mommy, today in school I was punished for something that I didn’t do.” The mother exclaimed, “But that’s terrible! I can’t believe the teacher would treat you that way. By the way, what was it that you didn’t do?” The little girl replied, “My homework.”
Every parent knows what it’s like for his or her child to come home and tell a story about something bad that happened at school. What should a parent do when his or her child comes home and tells about something that happened at school that is upsetting or negative?
Let me suggest several things not to do:
- Try not to overreact. It’s easy to get upset, especially if our children are upset. The best thing we can do is maintain our calm and think through our responses.
- Don’t believe everything your child tells you. I’m not suggesting you should accuse your child of lying! Rather, we should have the attitude of Ronald Reagan: Trust but verify. As an old friend used to say, “There are three sides to every story – your side, my side, and the truth.”
- Avoid talking to other parents to find out if they are upset, too. Of course, sometimes speaking to other parents is needful if the issue involves their children. However, “parking lot chatter” rarely does anything more than stir up other parents.
- Finally, don’t give in to the temptation to believe what your child says, get angry, and then stuff the feelings down and harbor resentment. That is a formula for dissatisfaction and bitterness that will certainly not help your children – and doing what is best for our children is what we all want.
Rather than reacting in these ways, what ought parents to do when they get a report from their child about something upsetting at school? First, listen to your children. Seek to comfort them and even to pray with them. Next, contact your child’s teacher. This is so important! Your children’s teachers are accessible to you. Call them, text them, visit them after school, email them – but find a way to ask your child’s teacher what went on. If the teacher doesn’t know, she will get to the bottom of it, and I, as headmaster, stand ready to help sort through what happened and address issues appropriately. When you call, ask questions. What happened? What was going on when it occurred? Who else was involved? Why did you choose to handle it the way you did? How can I help?
One last thing to consider: what if the issue involves something that the teacher him or herself did? All the more reason to contact the teacher directly! Perhaps it is a misunderstanding. Maybe your child is either lying or putting something the teacher did in a bad light. But then again, maybe the teacher is at fault. Teachers are prone to mistakes and sins, like all of us; sometimes it is only through a faithful and diligent parent that a teacher is asked about an issue they themselves caused. Christ taught us, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matt 18:15). Regents teachers are humble, approachable Christian ladies and gentlemen who are ready to hear from parents and address whatever the issue is, even if the fault is in him or herself.
As parents sometimes we feel torn between two competing impulses. One is the God-given zeal we have to protect and aid our children. The other is the biblical command, “Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thess. 5:13). I want to suggest that the way to accomplish both is to go straight to your children’s teachers and get to the bottom of whatever the concern is. We are ready and willing to help.