When children communicate concerns about school, engage them in a conversation to get more information about what is going on. Ask open ended questions like, “Can you tell me more?” and “Can you give me an example?” These conversations can also help children process their experiences.
Help your child understand their feelings surrounding these concerns. Ask questions like, "How does this make you feel?" or "What is that like for you?" Then validate their feelings with statements such as, "That would be frustrating!" or "I can see why that would be hard," followed by, "I'm sorry this is happening." This conversation, and conversations like these that foster connection between you and your child, is the most important step a child can take to help themselves feel better. Your availability to simply hear about your child’s concerns and validate their feelings nurtures their confidence and is the crucial step for your child to learn how to advocate for themselves in the future.
If your child seems satiated with simply being able to express their feelings to you, then, in this moment, your work as a parent is done. But if your child seems to need to address their concerns in a more tangible way, explore with your child possible ideas or solutions to problem solve by discussing possible solutions. Some questions you could ask are, “What would you like to see happen?”, “What are some ideas to fix this?”, and “What are some options that you could do to address this?” If your child is struggling to come up with ideas, you can offer a few suggestions to help them brainstorm, but if possible (and without pressure), encourage your child to come up with at least one idea on their own.
Once your child has come up with solutions, help them figure out how to implement their ideas by asking your child how they want to go about making these changes. Are there changes that they can make? Should they talk to their teacher? Should they talk to their classmate? Because some children can feel apprehensive about conversations like these, role-playing is a great way for your child to practice and become more comfortable with what they want to say. Parents can help by pretending to be either the teacher, a classmate, or their child!
Let your child know that after they have addressed their concern at school, they can talk to you about what happened, maybe over a cup of hot chocolate or as you walk the dog together. Remember to avoid any pressure and let your child address their concerns at their own pace, it may not happen the next day or the day after. When children feel pressured they can shut down or feel like they need to take care of the parents’ needs or feelings, which can add to their troubles, fears, or anxieties.
If your child does not begin to feel better and feels the problem is persisting, ask your child if they would like you to reach out to their teacher. If you do reach out, keep in mind that you only have one side of the story. Asking the teacher open ended questions such as, “I’ve been hearing ___ from my child, do you have any insight on this?” or “Is there something I can do to help the situation?” Questions like these can help you get an accurate picture of what is happening at school and what possible solutions might be.
After getting the teacher’s perspective, share what you learned with your child and let them know that their teacher is aware of what is going on and that your child can go to them if they need help.
Even though addressing concerns may be challenging, helping your child to address problems, find solutions, and get help is a skill that will serve them in school and beyond. However, if your child has concerns about bullying, safety, their health, or if there are significant events happening at home (loss in the family, etc.), it is important for parents to reach out directly to the teacher or administration about these issues without expecting their child will be able to address the situation on their own.