Sue Scheff: Wnen Parents Blame the Schools

“Academics was hard, and trying to fit in was harder.”

– Brendon, 14, talking about his experience in a new middle school

When Brendon Yag entered middle school, his grades began to drop and so did his attitude.

“Academics was hard and trying to fit in was harder,” says Brendon, 14.

His mom says she met with the principal, and didn’t like what she heard. “He felt I needed to let my child fail,” says Meg Yag, “to understand the consequences of what he was or was not doing.”

Meg lost confidence in the school’s approach, but experts warn when dissatisfaction with a school turns into outward disrespect voiced by the parent, the child may feel it’s okay to misbehave.

“The child is in between, like a custody case between the school and parents, and will take an opportunity not to respect the rules of the school,” says psychologist Dr. June Kaufman.

Brendon’s mom was careful to not criticize the school in front of her son. “The school is a fabulous school for the right kind of kid. It was not the right kind of school for my kids,” she says.

After two years floundering in his middle school, Brendon switched to a different school. But experts say if parents don’t have that choice, and their child is having problems, there are a couple things the parent can do.

First, visit the school before forming an opinion, and observe your child to get a better idea of what really is going on.

Second, talk with administrators about how they might be able to better accommodate your child’s learning needs.

“And importantly,” says Kaufman, “if there’s a choice among teachers, try to determine in conversation with the teacher before they enroll, if they think that child is a good fit, with the teacher.”

And parents should always make kids realize, you won’t always blame the school, or the teacher, if your child has problems.

“My mom told me that if I get in trouble again, I get in big trouble,” says Brendon, “So I’m good now.”

Tips for Parents

Should parents side with their child in a dispute between the child and the school? Here are excerpts from an interview on the subject with Dr. June Kaufman, a licensed psychologist:

“I think it creates more problems when (parents) side with their child,” Dr. Kaufman says. “The child is in between, like in a custody case, between the school and parents, and the child will take the opportunity not to respect the rules of the school…

“The most important thing is to have a good fit between the child, teacher and school and have a situation where the parents can work with the school. If the parents are getting calls every day at work about behavior problems at school, they have to look into it, they have to respond, without blaming the school. I think they should look at a school’s policies and, importantly, if there’s a choice among teachers, try to determine in conversations with the teacher—before they enroll the child—if they think their child is a good fit with the teacher. The child has to know, ‘this is a good place for you.’

“I think you have to say to the child, ‘I’ve heard from the teacher that there’s (a problem). I don’t know the whole story. I’ll take your side this time, but if this behavior continues, I’m going to be meeting with the teacher and learning much more about it. So, I don’t know the whole story yet and I might even have to observe in the classroom.’

“There isn’t a perfect child, and even the most model child may even have difficulty, so you don’t want to necessarily believe everything your child tells you.”

Some suggestions for positive steps toward better discipline from the National Education Association (NEA):

Let your children know you like them. Tell your children how much you admire their good qualities.
Let your children know exactly what you expect of them – set limits.
Encourage responsible decision-making. Whenever possible, find areas in which you know your children can make decisions for themselves.
Set a good example. Remember that children are great imitators.
Encourage your children to respect authority. At home, in school, and in other areas of their lives, your children need to know the importance of respecting authority.
If your child is having problems in or out of school, the NEA says don’t waste your time blaming yourself. Although you share the responsibility for your children’s development, you aren’t the only one who influences them. Communicate with your children about the problems they are having. Help them look for solutions.

Finally, the NEA says, “Keep in mind that you can’t shield your children from the problems of the real world. Nor can you keep accidents from happening. Some attempts at good parenting may be overzealous. By trying to avoid being too protective and solicitous for your children’s concerns you can help them become truly independent people.”

Dr. June Kaufman, psychologist
National Education Association

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