Parent/Teacher Conferences

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Teacher's Advice Prompts Defensive Reaction

Aug 1999

My daughter has had difficulties in daycare since she was 2 years old. She is very bright and active, but she has social difficulties with other children at times and acts impulsively/ inappropriately. She is now 4.5 and attends a quality child care program. I always try to limit her hours to 6.5 or so per day and spend special days with her as well. She takes a break from child care each summer. She doesn't act out (or exhibit obvious social blunders) when I take her to parks, nor when she has friends over, aside from the typical squabble over a toy.

Whenever her teachers give me recommendations, I get emotional and take it personally. For example, they tell me we should see a family therapist, take her to ADHD Specialty Camps or that we need to work with her more on social empathy at home. I want to cooperate and work with the teachers to the ultimate goal of my child having a positive and successful experience at preschool, but I always feel that they are blaming me as a parent and I get incredibly defensive.

School just started for the semester and already I am in tears over discussion with her teacher. He said that my daughter offends other children and they don't want to be friends with her, so I need to work with her at home and have her stop walking all over me and understand that Mom has a life too.

I just don't know how to turn my attitude around-- this offended, defensive feeling-- to be more open to these comments. I usually get angry after the fact, not during the discussions. As I mull the conversations over later in my mind, I get upset. I don't know how to approach the teacher and explain to him that he is getting to me in this way. Does anyone have any advice?

I think the thing to remember is that the teacher is trying to resolve a problem and one of the best ways to do this is to talk with the parent. This lets him let you know what is going on at school, and gives you a chance to tell him what you've trying at home. It would be very difficult for him to make any progress on this issue without working with you.

Since his comments don't get to you until after the conference is over, perhaps you are bottling up too much during the meeting. Make sure you are open with him about what you've tried and how frustrated you are. This may make him more sympathetic.

As for his suggestions, perhaps he's trying to let you know that there's nothing wrong with looking out for your own needs, and for seeking outside assistance if necessary.

You say that your child attends quality childcare program...but are you sure it's the right program for you and your child? It kinda doesn't sound like a very good fit to me from what you've written. The quote from the teacher that you posted--to have your daughter stop walking all over [you] and understand that Mom has a life too--sounds to me like a highly insensitive, critical, and unhelpful comment. How could you not take offense at something like that? He just trashed your parenting style and your relationship with your daughter. Maybe instead of assuming that there's something wrong with your attitude for resenting his coments, it would be worthwhile to trust your sense that he's out of line. Even if you decided he was right, though, his comment offers zero suggestion about what it is he proposes that you do.

Since your daughter is appropriately sociable in non-school settings, I wonder whether the proposed diagnosis of ADHD or other psychological disturbance is appropriate for her--wouldn't those kinds of symptoms be evident in a variety of settings, not just at pre-school? Sounds like it doesn't ring true to you, as any rate. I would seriously consider investigating a different pre-school for her, or even letting her stay out of pre-school. From what you wrote, it sounds to me as though she is getting all the wrong messages from her pre-school--that she is not OK. The school is evidently not about to change their approach to your daughter, so maybe just a different school, with a different philosophy or even just different people (kids and teachers, both), and hence difference social chemistry, would help. If the other kids really are rejecting her there, then she is perhaps even being psychologically compromised by spending her days there.

On the other hand, I myself love psycho-therapy and find it most beneficial. I imagine that you might well benefit from some therapy around this issue--either family therapy or individual. By that I don't mean to imply that I think you have a problem, but simply that getting extra support couldn't hurt, especially when you're hitting a rough patch, like now. If it turns out to be true that your daughter has ADHD or whatever, then early identification and help would be all to the good. Anyway, that's my $.02.

If you feel that your child is really having consistent problems in her school setting, I would encourage you to have her evaluated by someone who is an expert in childhood psychology/behavior, probably your pediatrician can recommend someone. This will give you some *real* information about your child, as opposed to being at the mercy of the opinions of various teachers, or your own doubts or fears. Many people are quick to blame the family (usually the mother) for causing problems in her child by her bad parenting skills, but most of the time this is not the case. Sometimes the child has a condition (like ADHD for instance) that can be treated, providing relief to the child (as well as to the worried parents). If it is just a matter of poor social skills, there is someone in the Berkeley/Albany area who runs a small group for kids to help them develop these skills.

But, the first step is to identify what (if anything) is really going on for your daughter, and for that I would recommend that you see someone who really knows children and their *normal* behavior ranges. When you know what is at the root of your child's problems in her school setting you can take appropriate action to help her. And if you find out that your child is just a *normal* kid, but maybe out on the edge of the normal behavior range, it will be easier for you to ignore the inappropriate (and sometimes hurtful) comments from people who don't really know what they are talking about. Best of luck with this.

I have an 11 year old with ADHD who has always had social problems. I started him on medication at 8 because he almost got sent home from camp for impulsivity and aggression, despite a charming and engaging nature. While I have at various times found advice hard to take (especially with all the American propaganda about single mothers), I also am grateful to find it's not just me who perceives a problem. We started in counseling at West Coast Children Center just before age 4, and still return to counseling as needed. A trained counselor can help you learn how to work with teachers, while also helping you improve your parenting skills. A center like WCCC can also assess your child for ADHD, though they are very conservative about labeling at such a young age. No matter really, because you're addressing the behaviors, not the diagnosis. By the way, my son does much better now!