The caption of this entry refers to situations in which it seems like a teacher, coach or some other designated authority in your child’s life treats him or her poorly or unfairly. What follows are 10 guidelines for responding to this maddening situation.
Guideline #1: Try to remember that your child will likely have a long stream of these kind of events happening in his or her life way off into the future (i.e., someone with authority over him or her exerts such ineffectively or unjustly) and that this event, while painful and unfortunate, provides a wonderful opportunity for on-the-job training.
Guideline #2: Keep in mind that all of we engaged parents are lunatics. So, we have to realize that we are, much of the time, disposed to over-reactions and/or efforts to over control things. That’s okay and even inevitable. But, we do well to humbly admit that our perception(s) and reality can be different.
Guideline #3: The older your child, and the slighter the infraction. the least likely it may be advisable to intercede, or at least not without clearance from your child. The younger your child, and the more significant the infraction, the more it may be advisable to intercede, sometimes even over your child’s objections. For instance, a coach publically screaming profanity at your elementary school aged child would likely call for you to intervene, while a teacher grading your high school student unfairly on an exam would likely not call for you to intervene.
Guideline #4: Get a full vetting from your child about his or her thoughts and feelings about what happened. Provide empathy. Stay at that place, not sharing your perspective(s), until your child is finished. Then, state any agreement you have with what your child has said before pointing out any alternative perspectives you hold. (Keep in mind that empathy and agreement are different things.)
Guideline #5: Decide if an intervention is warranted. This can be a complicated calculation based on factors like the odds of it happening again (including to other kids), the age of your child, how much the event has upset you and/or your child, the apparent maturity of the adult in question (as best as you can tell), the effectiveness of the administration above the adult in question and the seriousness of the infraction. In figuring this out it’s often a good idea to consult with at least one kind and wise person who is willing to keep your confidence and who is as equally likely to disagree with you as to agree with you.
Guideline #6: If an intervention is warranted, decide who will be on point: you/another parent/another adult or your child. Regardless of who is on point, decide if the other person(s) will follow up in some way (e.g., your child follows up with a teacher after you’ve had a meeting).
√ Asking for a meeting with the adult and your child; consider whether some other adult should be there or not, including you. Consider whether it be over the phone or in person, impromptu or scheduled.
√ Coach (e.g., through role playing) your child on how to get the adult’s perspective on what happened first, on how to provide empathy for the adult’s perspective and how to find common ground with what the adult asserts. This makes it more likely that the adult will be receptive (I know it feels odd to need to coach your child on how to manage the potential defensiveness of an adult, but that’s, unfortunately, how things often work here on planet Earth). Also coach your child that many points can be made more effectively with sentences that end in question marks than with sentences that end in periods or exclamation points. Look at two different ways to make the same point. First method: “coach, I’d love it if you’d let me play center field sometime!” Second method: “coach what could I do to increase your confidence in giving me a shot in center field sometime?”
√ Coach your child on how to get his or her position across kindly, calmly and clearly.
√ Discuss what your child might say to the adult about your potential follow up (if you’re not to be at the meeting, that is).
√ Consider whether it would be advisable for your child to write something to the adult.
√ Consider whether it is a good idea for your child to be in touch with the person the adult reports to.
√ Consider whether your child should ask his or her peer(s) to be involved in some fashion.
Guideline #8: If you (or another adult) is to be on point, the principles in the previous guideline would be essentially the same. Most of the time it’s advisable to try to find common ground, provide empathy, share your perspective as kindly, calmly and clearly as possible and see if you can reach agreement on a follow-up plan. If the latter isn’t possible, then you could agree on which other adult(s) you might bring into the conversation, assuming what’s at stake is worth it to you.
Guideline #9: Teach and model crisis = pain + opportunity. Do this all the way through the process, including after the fact, at which point it is often a good idea to do a psychological autopsy of what happened.
Guideline #10: If the situation is too painful and/or if the issues are more than you’re prepared to effectively negotiate on your own, seek out help. For example, to find a psychologist in your region, click here.
Who said parenting was easy, right? But, don’t you wish, on some days at least, that someone would have made it EXACTLY clear what it was that you were signing up for? And, can someone please tell us all where the guy lives whose job it was to have done that?! 😉