School can be the most stressful or most enjoyable time in your life. Primary school was a confusing time for me, I didn’t get that people lied (I lied often, so it really shouldn’t have been a surprise to me), or that people could be mean for absolutely no reason, and I wasn’t great at reading social cues. But it was also the best time, playing with other kids every day (I have always loved being around people), reading, learning interesting new things, writing stories. The last thing I would want to do is go back to school, but when you become a parent, that’s exactly what happens. You have to do homework almost every night (despite plenty of research to say that it doesn’t improve outcomes), and you are thrown right back into the emotional turmoil of primary school memories, further impacted by your own kids' experiences.
What do you do when school issues become home issues?
When my older children were in primary school, if there was a problem at school, you spoke to the teacher or the principal, and they sorted it out. But these days, more and more parents are telling me that other parents are contacting them directly about school issues. When this happens, each parent has only one side of the story, and it's easy to be convinced that your children are the "good" ones in the situation. I’m their mum, of course I'm going to believe that they did nothing wrong… and so it goes for the other parent.
Schools regularly tell parents not to approach other parents, or children (which is wrong on many levels), about classroom and playground issues. What it can lead to is a deeper level of nastiness, parents bullying each other, parents excluding other children from social activities, and children discouraged from resolving issues on their own. While you might be angry at Fred and not talking to Fred’s mum and dad, Fred and your adorable Alice might have resolved the issue and want to be friends again. But now they are stuck, and it is quite likely that they will be emulating in the playground, what they hear about each other and their respective families.
Helicopter parenting is a thing
It’s another symptom of helicopter parenting, where, in an attempt to make up for a childhood where you may not have felt protected or supported, or fear about the scary world that your babies inhabit, you go overboard with protecting your children. It’s not a bad or dangerous thing to do, but it does limit their ability to resolve issues on their own. What can you do instead? Sit with your child and say supportive things like “it sounds like you had a bad day with Fred” or “that must have been difficult for you.” Then you can ask “what do you think you could do if that happens again?” or “who would be a good person to talk to at school about this?” and ask them to follow up, as well as tell you the outcome if it does happen again. If it’s an issue that persists, the 3 people at school to talk to are the class teacher and the principal, or deputy principal. Let them know that you’d like them to help your child resolve the issue, and ask them to let you know how it goes in future.
What can you do with your feelings?
Anything around parenting can be a cause for anxiety or depression, because we feel so much responsibility for the precious lives we have created. If you are finding it difficult to manage your anxious feelings, you may find it really does help to talk to the teacher or principal, as you are making them responsible for something that feels overwhelming to you. Try talking to other parents who are going through the same problems (preferably not the ones you’re having trouble with), the process of sharing can take a load off. If you are struggling with how to manage what’s going on for your child, there are some awesome support services around – in NSW start with your local Family Support Service or Family Referral Service, where you can get one-on-one support with managing parenting; there are similar programs in other states, pop me an email if you would like to know where to go for parenting support in your state. Most of these services also run parenting programs which can really help to consolidate your knowledge and put it into practice.
Finally, in the age we are in, with technology at everyone’s fingertips, and school issues following us home on social media, don’t bring more home. And if your child is in primary school, there really is no need for social media to be part of their lives. That’s another issue, for another article.