Dear Dr. Fournier:
I know it’s only July but school will be starting before we know it and I’m worried about the teachers my son will have as he goes into his 9th grade year. We had a problem with our child last year and it nearly devastated me. He was subjected for most of the school year to a teacher’s sarcasm and ridicule in the classroom even though he tried valiantly to please her and keep this teacher happy. As a result, his self-esteem suffered badly. He withdrew from his friends and us for a while then school was over and he was happy again as summer started. I know he is already dreading the start of school next month for fear of the same thing happening this coming school year. What can we as parents do when our children are subjected to a teacher’s sarcasm and ridicule?
New Bern, NC
When people suffer from work-related problems, family disagreements, financial obligations, illness or other life situations, this causes stress. They often seek relief from that stress by taking their frustrations out on others in the form of sarcasm, ridicule or just plain shouting. Many times people getting ridiculed are not even related to the cause of the offender’s stress.
Teachers are also susceptible to stress and as such, often take it out on students in the classroom.
While no situation justifies the use of sarcasm and ridicule, it’s a very human thing to do. Once we recognize this, we can deal with the situation.
Sarcasm and ridicule are inappropriate in the classroom – whether from the teacher or from students. You cannot change their behavior. What you can do is help your child understand reactions to stress and help him learn to cope with them.
This personal strategy is important to your son not just in the classroom but also in life. Yet coping with others is not an innate ability. You must guide your child in recognizing such situations and teach him how to handle them with empathy.
This seemingly passive strategy is frequently dismissed in today’s world where people wear their feelings on their sleeves or walk around with a chip on their shoulder. Parents I counsel on this issue often initially are offended and say to me, “No one has a right to insult my child.”
They are correct but people are going to do it anyway. This is just human nature.
Jenny, you will not always be there to help your child mend hurt feelings or deal with others. It is far more important to teach your child to take responsibility for his own defense, not by hitting back but by going above it.
I know this will seem foreign to a society where everyone wants to blame others for their troubles but taking responsibility for his life now will equip your son with the ability to deal with setbacks he will likely face as an adult.
So, help your son learn to see opportunity where others see defeat. Help him learn that a key to overcoming hurt is finding ways to collaborate with the hurtful person rather than succumbing to him or her and the natural desire we have to separate from those around us when we are hurting.
Most of all, Jenny, help your child learn that he is strong enough to fend off defeatist feelings with the following strategy for success.
WHAT TO DO
Start by helping your child recall moments when he or she has lost control in dealing with a sister, a brother or a friend because of “outside” stress, such as getting a low grade on a report card or just simply having nothing go right for him that day (what we often call in slang terms as having a bad hair day.)
Help your child understand that sometimes a teacher’s actions may be unrelated to him or the person who is on the receiving end of the teacher’s ire. Let your child know this is an opportunity to take positive action in an unpleasant situation. Use role-playing with your child to illustrate things a teacher might say, and teach your child other thoughts.
Start by asking your child to answer three questions:
1. What did the teacher say that shows his or her stress?
2. Why should I not let this bother me?
3. What can I do to let the teacher know I’m moving forward?
Make sure your child gets to Step 3. This is the step that will help the child not stifle bad feelings, and instead take positive steps. Here is an example of the answers in this three-step process:
1. “You could have done better on this test. You obviously didn’t study. Your laziness is going to flunk you, not me.”
2. My teacher is frustrated. Her job is to teach so that I learn. My teacher feels bad because he or she didn’t get the job done; besides, maybe she has a headache, or a sick parent or her own child is having problems.
3. For the next test I’ll prepare an outline and ask my teacher to review it with me so she can see and know I’m making an effort.
Finally Jenny, if this approach doesn’t help your son this coming school year with a difficult teacher, then schedule a conference with that teacher to let him or her know the affect it is having on your child’s emotional wellness.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER
Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at email@example.com.