Understanding Leads to Understanding
By Nadine Briggs
“I’m concerned that the teacher will peg my kid as the bad one.”
“I’m worried that the kids won’t like my child.”
When we send our children to school each fall, we want them to feel comfortable, accepted and liked. We want them to feel like they are interesting, intelligent and competent. Some of our kids, though, will behave in ways that can be difficult for others to find likable. They may talk too much, be impulsive, have trouble with personal space and sound boastful or arrogant. The awesomeness that they possess may not be readily apparent. Teachers have the tough job of trying to meet the needs of all their students and patience may be limited at times. Classmates and educators may react negatively to how our kids interact with others, especially if they don’t understand the underlying reasons as to why kids act the way they do. When someone has a physical issue or limitation that can be observed, we understand why they are unable to run, write or speak clearly. If a child uses a wheelchair, for example, it is a clear sign that they have issues with using their legs. Kids with social challenges, however, do not have such a symbol. The challenges they struggle with can be thought of as their invisible wheelchair.
So what to do?
Explain. Sometimes explaining how and why your child behaves the way they do to teachers can be enough. The teachers can gently, and at the appropriate times, educate peers on social issues. For example, my daughter Megan, who has Down syndrome, used to use self-talk as a processing strategy. She would be working on a craft with a friend while talking out loud to herself as she worked through the steps. The other child didn’t know if she was talking to them or not. An adult can easily anticipate the confusion in this scenario and explain that she is talking to herself. Once the classmate knew why she was talking, she would become more understanding and even ask her if she was talking to herself or to them.
In my social group, I have a boy who was in kindergarten last year. His teacher would say some upsetting things to him. His mom gave me several examples of comments she had made about how he shouldn’t be making any mistakes. She also told the class that she expected bad behavior from this boy but not out of the other kids. At 5 years old, her sharp comments began to erode this little boy’s self-esteem. He had some annoying behaviors in class and by the end of the school year, this teacher was clearly frustrated to the point of not being able to keep in the negative thoughts she was having about him. There is a secret to him, though, as there is to all kids. They have to know that you like them or at least a part of who they are. If they feel disliked, that can create more difficult behavior. This little guy is very anxious and he really needs to know what is going to happen and when. If he asks when snack is and is told “in a minute”, he is going to count to 60 in his head so he knows when a minute has passed. Understanding a few things about this boy would have likely resulted in the teacher helping him with this anxious thoughts and would have decreased his behavior.
For many years, I have completed a personality profile for my daughter. Teachers love to get the insight as to who she is as a person. Armed with details about her life, they were also able to tailor academics to things that interested her. Give her a math word problem about a planning a party and you will have her full attention! The personality profile template that I have used is located below. Some parents have given the same information with a concise one pager. Others meet with the teacher at the beginning of the new school year, bringing a classroom gift of hand sanitizer or some other needed supply, to chat about the best way to interact with his or her child. Friendly parents who appreciate the difficult job of teachers, who provide information on their child and open the door for ongoing and productive discussions throughout the year, can set the tone of collaboration. Those parents know that understanding leads to understanding.