School has only been in session for a week and my ten-year old has already decided that her teacher doesn't like her. Last year she had a young teacher who was very creative and relaxed. My daughter worshipped her. This teacher is excellent (my son had her) but is more structured. Do you have any advice for helping her get off to a better start before she makes herself (and her parents) miserable this year?
When a child's personality doesn't match up with their teacher's, it can feel like there isn't a connection. But all is not lost! There are many ways you can help your daughter feel more at home in her new classroom. Here's my advice:
Let her be sad.
Attraction is a mysterious force; it pulls us toward some people and away from others, often without clear-cut reasons. Rather than trying to convince her of the new teacher's great qualities, allow her to voice her frustration and sadness, acknowledging the truth of what she is feeling. "Ms. Martin does things a lot differently from Ms. Jones. It's hard to get used to someone whose rules are different. And you really loved the way Ms. Jones read to you right after lunch." Make it clear that she gets to feel what she feels, resisting the urge to talk her out of those difficult emotions with logic and reason. It is only by living through disappointment that children discover that they can cope when life isn't going their way.
Broaden her understanding of human behavior.
Children are not always accurate in how they interpret the behavior of those around them, despite being highly sensitive. When your daughter complains that her teacher "doesn't like her", help her clarify what is fueling that conclusion. Ask about Ms. Martin's tone of voice--is it soft, loud, or in between? Invite her to describe her teacher's delivery style--does she speak quickly or very slowly? The more you can help your daughter separate signals her teacher may or may not be sending from simply being differences in her presentation style, the more you'll help her get away from blanket assumptions about her teacher's regard based on immature conclusions.
Be her ally, but stay neutral
If you had no prior experience with this teacher I would recommend a different approach as it is essential that children know that their concerns are taken seriously. Too often, parents dismiss a child's discomfort with a teacher when the situation warrants careful review. But given the fact that you have spent a year with this teacher with your son, I'm hopeful that the issue is more one of personality differences than unkind treatment toward your daughter. Tell your daughter that you will help her find a way to feel happier in this classroom despite missing last year's teacher.
Help change her focus
All children want to feel special and seen. If things continue to go poorly, set up a time to meet with the teacher to gather a few positive comments that you can share with your daughter. "Ms. Martin told me she loves how gentle you are with the hamsters. She made a special point of telling me how glad she is that you're there to look after them." The next time your daughter walks in the classroom she will be likely to stand a little taller, knowing her teacher sees something special about her.
Great teachers come in many varieties. An ideal outcome will be that your daughter broadens her horizons when it comes to choosing people worthy of affection and connection even if, at first, they don't fit into a particular mold.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.