Pamela Chan, Editorial/BCFamily.ca
As the beginning of September approaches, journalists and mom bloggers crank up their editorial calendars and the Back to School articles start flowing. Meanwhile, the big box stores have been running Back to School Ads starting in July. How many times do we need to read about “how to prepare your children for back to school” or “here’s how you can jazz up your child’s lunch”? I’ve pinned the best ones and can say that the most salient points have already been covered in countless news articles and blog posts. One discussion that is missing relates to the feelings of anxiety or resistance that parents can feel about sending their child to school, or about their own involvement in a school community.
Some years ago, while attending a professional development workshop for teachers, I came across a body of research about why parents don’t take part in their child’s school community. Take a moment to think about a possible list of reasons and then take that list and make it MUCH longer. There are A LOT of reasons why parents don’t want to step foot into a school – never mind take part in their child’s experience or help out at the school. And I say this while always keeping in mind that we are fortunate to be able to even access education for our children at a time when there are children in the world who still can’t. But accessing any type of environment that creates a feeling of negativity, and sometimes even toxic levels of stress, can often feel like a lose-lose reality.
By the time a child starts to progress through the grade levels, a parent might encounter situations that can feel stressful or even deeply disturbing. As the summer starts to inch closer to the new school year, there is a long list of reasons why a parent might be feeling less than enthused about the new school year. It’s not “just YOU” – the mommy or daddy – who is creating a situation. It’s not “just your child”. The struggles you might have experienced are being replicated in school communities all over the world. We hear about the concerning and common problem of bullying and social exclusion (which is a form of bullying). That ground has been covered in personal conversations and media pieces. But there are also the nasty little secrets or the uncomfortable elephants in the room.
So let’s go there.
Hopefully, sharing this information will instill in you a feeling of solidarity that serves to make you feel a little less like you just can’t deal with it all anymore. Knowing that other parents and their children have the same concerns somehow helps to lighten the load.
It’s impossible to cover all of the challenges, but here are a few common ones that you might have encountered and that might start to cause sleepless nights as summer gets underway and as the new school year approaches.
If your child had a stressful experience at school last year, you might have experienced what Educational Psychologists call School Refusal. It is exactly how it sounds – your child starts to refuse to go to school. Or perhaps your child tells you that he or she really doesn’t want to go to school. I can guarantee you that most parents will say “oh yes, my child has not wanted to go to school too”. This feedback is not always helpful as it can diminish the seriousness of the challenges your child is facing. School Refusal is full on refusal and constant anxiety and upset feelings about going to school and being away from home. Even if you were able to address the situation to some degree last year, there can be a nagging feeling that this issue will return in the coming school year. Here’s a description of school refusal from Anxiety Canada – an office that provides useful information about mental health concerns related to children and adults. Look for support both from staff members at school but also from your local Mental Health office that supports youth in your BC community. Call to enquire about intake days when you can show up and meet with a counsellor for an intake interview within a few hours.
The Bad Teacher
If your child is entering a school year when there is a chance of getting “the bad teacher”, this is a major cause for concern. And if you’ve heard that other parents are pulling strings to either keep their child out of that teacher’s class, or to propel them into other programme streams that will ensure avoidance of this type of teacher, this only serves to make you feel all the more inadequate and hopeless about how you’re supporting your child. And if your child actually does land in that teacher’s class, your stress level is only going to get worse. Of course the idea of a “bad teacher” is subjective. One group of parents might have nothing but damning observations to share about a teacher, while another group might say that they have no issues with that same teacher. The same can be said for students. Some might not mind a teacher while other students might take on the negative feelings that their parents share. If you’ve heard that the teacher seems unenthusiastic about teaching, has a short temper, has high absenteeism rates, doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of the material or have strong classroom management skills, for example, there is a real worry that the year is going to be wasted time and demoralizing for your child. It’s helpful to know that there are a number of types of “bad teachers” and there are strategies that can help your child – and you – to get through the year.
The Bullying Mom and/or Dad
Have you encountered a bullying mom or dad who made your life miserable in a school community? These types of people do exist and they can be shockingly Machivelian. Their behaviour might have even have inspired you to check out what percentage of society can be psychopaths. If you’ve found yourself looking up questions like “description of social disorder X or Y”, you might have had this problem with another parent. Most likely this type of parent wouldn’t see themselves in these terms and it’s entirely possible that they run amuck in a school community because others either aren’t affected by that person’s behaviour, don’t see that there is a problem or don’t want to take that person on. It’s crazy that this type of situation could go on at this moment in our social history. How can you cope and move on after being bullied by another parent? Here’s one mum’s account of how she coped.
The Parent Who Bullies Your Child
Nothing will get a parent more upset than when their child is being bullied. But how about when that bully is another parent or parents? (The tag team bullying couple or bullying parent friends is the worst nightmare.) It’s hard to imagine that this can happen but apparently there’s a name for it. It’s called “social engineering”. Although, I’d like to add that this situation can be about more than simply one parent wanting their child to have social advantages. Issues such as intolerance for difference; haughty righteousness and judgment; and, a competitive environment related to children getting ahead, or accessing programmes, are some of the motivations driving these types of parents to go after your child.
Parents Who Are Exclusive
Have you ever met anyone who admits that they were one of the popular children at school and/or that they bullied others? I didn’t think so. This type of honest and self awareness is particularly rare. For this reason, if there is a group of parents who act in an exclusive way and systematically shut out other parents, there can also be strong denials that this is actually going on. And, as one person points out in this article – the unpleasant impact of this exclusive behaviour can often be unintended.
You Get Weird Vibes From the Teacher
You noticed last year that your child’s teacher seems to be chummy with other parents but wasn’t terribly warm and fuzzy with you. Human nature is a factors here as sometimes this standoffishness can be because the teacher only plays favourites with some parents. When I was on the teacher side of the classroom door, I did have some colleagues, for example, who were terribly impressed by the careers of some of the parents or by how wealthy and famous they were. I even had colleagues who were way too enthusiastic about the fabulous gifts that the wealthy parents would give them. I also had colleagues who would lavish attention on children they considered to be “adorable”, while giving minimal attention to those who didn’t fall into this category. Yeh. But weird vibes can also be because you are acting like a type of parent who is off putting. Here is a list of ten types of parents about which teachers won’t be feeling to fussed.
Don’t be one of those parents!
When Parents Gossip About Your Child
This is an issue that can be pervasive. Parents smack talking other people’s children is not a rare scenario. This type of gossip can come in all shapes and sizes and the parent of the child been discussed will invariably find out that loose lips have been trying to sink their family’s ship. The reality is that the information that is shared is often far from accurate. And sometimes the information being shared can be downright false or even the opposite of what a situation really is. The gossip can be deeply upsetting to parents and children. Worse still, parents’ gossip can colour how other children view and interact with your child. The toxic gossip can heighten a child’s anxiety or have even graver and extremely serious consequences. I’m including this post because it’s written by a mum who lives in the Metro Vancouver area. Don’t be misled by the title. She is a lovely woman (I’ve met her) and from what I can see her children are truly lovely. This makes her piece all the more powerful. Here’s an extremely reasonable and fair woman saying “enough already. I see what you’re doing and I’m calling you on it”. If the gossip is harmful enough, you might need to request a formal meeting where the teacher and Vice-Principal are present.
These are just a few of the issues you might have encountered with your child last year. If they are ongoing, you are going to have to continue to deal with them starting in September. Or maybe the issue has gone dormant but you worry that it might resurface.
I always like to say that a holiday is a great time to regroup – even if you are working right through the summer, packing lunches and sending your child to daycare. You’re still on a break from all of the anxiety. Summertime is a time to take advantage of a quiet moment, sit in the sun with a pencil in hand and write out how the issue of concern worked out last year, what you want to do the same this school year and what you want to change. Make sure you write this all out before you get pulled back into the hectic and potentially stressful school year.
Did I get weird vibes from my children’s teachers when they started school this past year? No! This post isn’t a way for me to do an online dump about everything that grieves me. I’ve tried to include the messy topics that parents are loathe to discuss in their coffee meetings.
Is there a topic that I’ve missed? Do you have any tips about how to deal with the issues that might be making parents feel School Avoidant? Head on over to the related post on the BC Family Facebook post, or the BC Family Twitter page, where you can share your thoughts.