Bullying, misbehaviours and difficulties coping with school work. We spell out possible sensitive situations that might arise and how you can work your child’s teacher to find a win-win solution.
These days, it’s not just about taking lunch money or physical contact. Much of the bullying that goes on is non-violent but plays with emotions and social dynamics. Susan, mum to Sophie who is in Primary 1, recounts one such incident.
“About a month after my daughter entered P1, she encountered an incident in class. One of her classmates had used her pocket money to buy a pen that was coveted among her classmates and kept it for herself.
I didn’t want to jump to my daughter’s rescue as I wanted her to learn how to stand up for herself. But despite numerous requests to her classmate to either return the money or pen, my daughter’s pleas fell on deaf ears. This classmate started to avoid her each time she saw my daughter approaching, and also lied that she lost the pen and didn’t have money to return my daughter.
I texted the class teacher to seek her assistance in investigating the matter as my daughter was very upset. The teacher assured me that she would look into the matter and speak to both girls to find out what had happened. In the end, my daughter’s classmate apologised and returned the pen to my daughter.”
Bully behavior can run a whole range of scenarios, from taking money for a pen to outright extortion in the school toilet or unkind words. As parents, it definitely breaks our heart when our children face such situations. Don’t jump into the fray to solve the problem immediately, unless physical harm has been threatened or occurred.
Encourage your child to take ownership of the problem and learn to stand up for themselves in front of their peers. But this does not mean we should leave them to fend for themselves. Explain to them how they can appropriately respond and talk through the incident with your child. Help them consider their options and encourage them to act on their decision.
It could be as simple as learning to say “No”, or to walk away from a difficult situation. Or it could be knowing when and how to ask their teacher for help. When the entire matter is solved, ask your child what they have learnt from the incident and how it to avoid it from happening again.
What if your child is not the victim but the perpetrator?
Depending on the scenario, you may need to connect with the victim’s parents and class teacher. Don’t be quick to come to a conclusion and put the blame on your child. Seek to understand the situation first before any punishment is set.
Trust the teacher and school to intervene when necessary.
Recognise that there is always a reason behind the behavior. It may take a while and many frustrating talks, but persevere in speaking to your child about the incident to understand where they are coming from and find ways to prevent such incidents from happening again.
Help your child take ownership of the problem and to apologise to the relevant parties.
2. ‘Misbehavior’ in the classroom
No parent likes to hear that their child has been behaving badly in school. Such behavior can range from being excessively restless during class time to skipping school, or instigating friends to act out during a lesson.
Here’s what Shannon, mother to 4-year-old Nat experienced.
“My son’s form teacher called me up after school one day, and told me that he was not cooperating well during class time. He refused to sit with the class during reading and listening time, and was always walking around aimlessly. Sometimes he would just lie on the floor and refuse to obey instructions.
The teacher even took photos of these incidents to show me as “proof” of his misbehavior, and would call me very often to tell me about the latest incident.
Of course, all this didn’t sit well with my son. For a while, he would come home from school crying and refuse to go to school the next day, because of that particular teacher. Yet he could not tell us why he was behaving that way either.
My husband, who is also an educator himself, and I discussed Nat’s behavior and tried to look at his behavior objectively to discern if his actions were willful or arose from his natural curiosity and mischievous nature. We also spoke with Nat to help him understand why such behavior was disruptive, and how being disruptive would affect everyone in his class.
Unfortunately, Nat’s teacher was not very keen to work with us on understanding his behavior and how to find solutions to the problem. So we decided to speak directly to the principal.
The principal was very understanding of the situation and helped us to work out some ways to manage Nat’s disruptive behavior in that class. Thanks to her intervention, we realised that our son only acted up in that one teacher’s class, and was much better behaved and attentive during his other lessons.
It was more an issue of teaching style and classroom management than a behavioral issue. Eventually, the principal suggested that we switch Nat to another class.
Ever since the switch, Nat has been a lot happier to go to school every day. His new teacher has shared that he is cooperative and well-behaved in school, and even shared with us some tips she learnt from observing our son. For us, the best outcome is seeing Nat finally enjoying school!”
When a teacher tells parents about their child’s alleged misbehavior, it’s common for parents to react in one of the two extreme ways – to deny that their angel of a child could possibly behave badly, or to lash out at their child for their bad behavior and mete out punishment immediately. Of course, we may also fall in between these two extremes.
Shannon and her husband did not jump to premature conclusions but took time to understand the situation from both their child and the teacher’s perspective. Their priority was not to assign blame, but to assess the cause for the misbehavior and identify any triggering factors and ways to manage such incidents. When further dialogue with the teacher proved ineffective, they turned to the principal for help, and found the solutions they were looking for.
On another hand, it’s important to understand the limitations of teachers in a classroom, given that they have a schedule to keep, many heads to look after, and a curriculum to teach. Be aware of any prejudice or judgements you may have towards the teacher or school. Seek to understand the situation objectively; work out possible solutions and to evaluate the outcome. At the same time, recognise that change takes time to happen.
3. Difficulties with schoolwork
Struggles with schoolwork can be due to a wide variety of reasons. Don’t be too quick to assume that your child is lazy or not paying attention in class. Perhaps there is an underlying reason for the seeming lapses in attention or poor understanding of the subject.
For instance, children may be easily distracted by what’s happening outside. Or they might be frustrated about a particular problem or person, which causes them to lose focus in class, because they don’t know how to manage their big emotions.
Children may also struggle in school because of a lack of sleep or anxieties over issues happening at home. A small percentage could be struggling because of a learning disability or disorder, in which case, professional intervention is necessary.
Talk to your child’s teacher to better understand how your child is struggling with school, for example if it’s a particular subject that’s challenging, or just school work in general. Find out what your child’s behavior in the classroom is like on a daily basis, and talk it through with your child as well to better understand what is going on.
Brainstorm with your child’s teacher and your spouse to get ideas to help your child cope with the work. Bring your child for a professional assessment if you suspect that there could be a learning disorder at play. Early intervention will help your child progress at a healthy pace.
If the issue is a matter of motivation, find way to encourage your child to enjoy learning. A reward system is often a strong motivator, but it may not be helpful in the long run if you want your child to be self-driven and develop a good work ethic.
Instead, find ways to make the learning journey come alive for your child, for example by planning family excursions or art projects around the theme of what he is studying, so that the lessons are more meaningful to him.
If you suspect your child is being bullied,
- Don’t jump in to solve the problem immediately, unless physical harm has been threatened or occurred.
- Encourage your child to stand up for themselves.
- Share with them how they can appropriately respond and give them options.
If your child is the bully,
- Connect with the victim’s parents and class teacher if necessary.
- Speak to your child and understand the reason behind the behaviour and find ways to prevent such incidents from happening again.
- Help your child take ownership of the problem and apologise to the relevant parties.
If your child is acting up in school,
- Take time to understand the situation from both your child and the teacher’s perspective.
- Assess the cause for the misbehavior and identify any triggering factors and ways to manage such incidents.
- When dialogue with the teacher does not work, turn to the principal or another party for help.
If your child is having trouble with school work,
- Find out what your child’s behavior in the classroom is like on a daily basis from the teacher.
- Make learning come alive for your child by planning family excursions or art projects around the theme of what he is studying.
- Bring your child for a professional assessment if you suspect that there could be a learning disorder at play. Early intervention will help your child progress at a healthy pace.
By Dorothea Chow
This was first published in The New Age Parents Enrichment and Preschool Resource Guide 2018.
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