“My son will not sit in circle time,” one mother told me.
“The principal is constantly calling about my son’s behavior on the bus. What can I do? I am not even there,” another mother bemoaned.
“The teacher keeps calling me to complain about my daughter’s slow pace. When my daughter doesn’t get her class work done, the teacher keeps her in during recess to finish her work, and she has a meltdown every time,” another parent admitted.
Do any of these statements sound familiar to you? If so, you are not alone. Millions of parents across the U.S. receive phone calls from schools, teachers, coaches, and other parents regularly about their children’s irregular behavior. These types of well-intentioned calls can be very draining. Parents with challenging kids often hear too much about things their children do wrong. Sometimes, behavior is aggrandized and made to look like a larger problem than it needs to be. Society is very critical of kids today. Adults often expect kids to be adults, or they expect kids to change their behavior overnight.
If you are the parent of one of these unique kids, the negativity is probably starting to get to you. These criticisms may be making you feel stressed, frustrated, or even ashamed by your child’s behavior. Even though, deep down, you understand that change and growth takes time, you wish you could do something that would make your child “fit in” now so you didn’t have to watch your child struggle with the pain of being different.
Remember, other parents throughout the country are going through the same ordeal. Every child develops at his or her own pace. At a BBQ this summer, a mother of a challenging child said that what kept her sane was to remember that “everyone is working on something.” She went on to explain that even the well-behaved straight-A student in her son’s class was working on not fighting with her brother on road trips. Her son’s teacher was working on reducing her credit card debt. Her son’s coach was working on eating healthier and losing weight. By reframing the criticism in this way, you can put your child’s issues into perspective. Yes, your child may be lacking some skills, either socially or academically, but you can work on developing those skills—just like everyone else. Everyone is working on something.
When the phone calls start rolling in, and you are feeling overwhelmed, you can also use these tips to help you keep calm.
After you receive a phone call, do not talk to your kid about it the minute the kid walks in the door. The conversation isn’t going to go well if you talk to them when you are still angry and frustrated. Instead, wait a few hours and broach the conversation when you are in a positive frame of mind.
Next, allow your child room to explain what happened. You could say, “I heard you had a rough day. What happened?” Your child’s perspective may help you understand the situation more fully.
Get your child excited about and involved in the problem-solving process. Change comes easier when your child sees the value in changing.
Look for small wins and improvements. Real change takes years. Remember to acknowledge and celebrate your child’s small successes.
Find a network of support. Find other parents who are going through similar travails and talk to them about your frustrations.
Communications with teachers, administrators, coaches, and other parents should be more about problem-solving and less about blaming. If you feel like the phone calls are all about blaming, try to turn the tables and involve the caller in the problem-solving process.
When talking to teachers or administrators over the phone, ask for insight into why this problem happened. Because you can’t be at school to regulate your child’s behavior, teachers need to step in and encourage change at school as well. To get teachers to partner with you, you can ask them open-ended questions, such as, “What skills do you think my child needs to develop?” and “What are you going to do at school to help my child develop those skills?” and “What can I do at home to help my child develop those skills?”
If you receive daily phone calls from one adult, you could also ask for a summary of your child’s behavior at the end of the week so you don’t have to face the constant negativity.
If the same problem keeps popping up, try to arrange a meeting with your child’s school team (the principal, the teacher, the school counselor, etc.) and come up with a long-term skill-building plan together, keeping in mind that your kid is not going to change by next week.
Above all, when you receive a disheartening phone call, remind yourself of the big-picture perspective. You are not the only parent receiving these phone calls. You are not the only parent working with your child on big issues like behavioral problems, social skills deficits, or low academic performance. Everyone is working on something.