It’s nothing new that kids will go home crying about what somebody did to them at school. The more problematic trend is the way that their parents respond. I’m experiencing a lot more episodes where parents are lambasting schools when their kids come home crying, claiming that the school has been negligent for not controlling the alleged behavior of some other child.
One psychologist I heard at a conference with educators explained that parents these days have lost the ability to hear what their own children are saying with proper critical detachment.
I’m not advocating a tone of suspicion. I am not advocating that parents assume their children are trying to manipulate them. Nor am I talking about real conflicts that teachers observe—of course those need to be immediately dealt with right there at the moment of transgression. The disturbing development is that parents often over-react to what quite frequently turns out to be trivial and unaggressive prompts to the crying: such as, a goofy facial expression, a shoulder that turns away from them, a teacher who calls on somebody else.
The key for parents is not to react but to respond. Before you slam your briefcase down and speed-dial the principal with an angry outburst, you should spend compassionate time with junior to learn more about what is truly bothering him.
Here are some quick bits of advice when your elementary age child comes home crying:
- Respond right away to the crying with a compassionate, but not an indulgent tone, asking your child for some understanding. Cut the baby babble and approach the situation with a grown-up tone.
- Realize that crying is revealing a need. The parent’s task is to uncover that need—it could simply be reassurance that the child is okay, that they belong at the school, or that they will have bad days and good days and so-so days, or that they just need your loving attention.
- Refrain from making judgments or commentary about other students who may be mentioned in the crying child’s complaint. Listen attentively and ask factual questions: When did this take place? Was this in the classroom? What were you doing at the time?
- Although the matter might not be resolved or fully understood, the main point should be to communicate clearly to your child that he/she is loved and cherished.
- Of course, if something seems puzzling or disturbing about what happened, especially after all of your fact-finding questions have been answered, then calling the teacher or the school is in order.
Remember that there is a huge difference between over-indulgence and expressing love. Rest assured there is no such thing as “over-loving” your child. Authenticity is key: Children are very good at picking up on their parents’ tone—they can easily read your sarcasm, suspicion, doubt, and annoyance. The genuine compassionate tone—the one that is really saying, “You’re okay for who you are right now,”is the best way to begin a dialogue with your child to begin the process of uncovering need.