By Sue DeCaro and Erin Taylor
Fear is rampant in our society, on all levels—from children, to parents, to teachers and school staff—and nothing good comes from allowing fear to guide our actions. But what does this look like day to day?
Many parents have good intentions and want the best for their children, but when fear is in charge, some less-than-desirable outcomes can result. This can increase tension between the parent and the teacher. Parents want their children to do well in school, be enrolled in many and varied extracurricular activities, and get into a good college, believing their children are entitled to all these things. With this focus, parents can unintentionally foster a sense of entitlement in their children.
When fear is in charge, parents may become “lawnmower parents,” trying to mow down anything challenging in the path of their child, including teachers who give their child a poor grade or coaches who do not choose their child for a team. Such parents can feel indignant toward the teacher or coach, believing their child was entitled to a better grade or deserved to be chosen for a better team.
Many times the root of this entitlement is the fear that if the child does not get the better grade or is not chosen for the better team, certain disaster is in the child’s future. The child will not get into a good college, will not get a scholarship, and will end up living in the parents’ basement for all of eternity.
But how do parents make the leap from one poor grade to basement-dwelling?
Teachers pushing student to learn and challenging students to achieve is a wonderful thing, but when teachers are motivated by fear, they may push their students from a place of exasperation, frustration or annoyance. The students pick up on this anxiety and may either feel stressed about the class or resist the teacher. Teachers, in turn, can feel stressed by parents who are being driven by fear. But what is a teacher to do?
Fear does not like to be met with resistance and pressure. Fear likes to be handled gently and lovingly.
This is where mindfulness and self-care come into the picture. In our work, we educate teachers, school support staff and administrators on the importance of being mindful of how they are feeling each day in the classroom or school environment. We teach school employees and parents to understand what may be triggering them and how to overcome those triggers. It is vitally important to keep self-care as part of a daily practice, both inside and outside the classroom or school.
When teachers’ buckets are full, meaning they are taking good care of themselves and have plenty of energy to flow through the day, they have more of themselves to give to their students. They also have more energy and patience when it comes to dealing with the parents of their students. Do you currently have any self-care practices?
When fear is driving a parent, meeting that parent with an undertone of frustration or resistance only results in power struggles between parents and teachers. The child ultimately loses. Fear does not like to be met with resistance and pressure. Fear likes to be handled gently and lovingly. But how can a teacher best do that?
First, a teacher, school support staff member or administrator needs to help the parent see that they are both on the same side—the child’s. Teachers need to feel comfortable explaining to parents that every situation in life is an opportunity to learn—a good grade, a bad grade, lost homework, or other typical school experience. When teachers and other school employees are mindful and remember to take care of themselves, they are much more successful at listening to parents with compassion and not backing down, but rather finding a productive way to work together in the child’s best interests.
Second, school staff must remember the unique strengths and qualities that each student brings to the school environment, the classroom, the bus or the playground. Each child is an individual. When we expect uniform compliance from each child, we may be setting him or her up for failure. It is important to remind ourselves of what we’ve always known as educators, to meet each student where he or she is and go from there.
Third, school staff must work hard to build a trusting, supportive relationship with each family that keeps open lines of communication between home and school. When this type of relationship is established, issues that arise with individual students can be handled much more effectively.
Educating our students is not only about academics, but also about developing and relating to the whole child. We must remember that we are not just teaching from day to day, but rather raising the next generation.
Erin Taylor and Sue DeCaro are Certified Parent Coaches®, educators, public speakers, authors, social entrepreneurs and co-founders of Building Connected Communities.
DeCaro’s two children are graduates of Pennsylvania’s public schools. Taylor’s three children currently attend public schools in New Jersey.
Taylor and Decaro have presented at numerous events and have been featured on many podcasts and radio programs. They can be reached at info@buildingconnectedcommunities.
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