Get off the Feedback Roller Coaster Now!
By Caroline Maguire, PCC, Med.
Every day is an emotional roller coaster for our children. After all, learning to ride out those highs and lows is the crux of social-emotional learning in childhood. But what about us? What about our own roller coaster of emotions when, as parents, we’re confronted each day with reports of our child’s ups and downs—from them, from their teachers or principals, from classmates or their parents, or from others who feel compelled to share?
Ordinarily, the more information we have about our child, the better prepared we feel to help them tackle their challenges, learn and grow. Not always, though. Good news, bad news, and sometimes just baffling news of your child’s behavior can be dizzying or overwhelming at times.
If your child struggles with social or behavioral challenges—and an estimated 7 million children in the US do—chances are that any given day is filled with good news or bad news, and it is most certainly one extreme or the other. I’ve literally been paralyzed by reports from my own son’s preschool and I hear similar stories every day from parents in my coaching work with children and families. In fact, in my practice, what I find is that far too often too much information inundates worried parents, creating a sense of alarm, questions about what can be done, distress and, for some, a sense of hopelessness or panic.
Often other parents, classmates, and sometimes, even teachers can be insensitive to what is going on inside our child’s brain, and just how hard they are working to improve. One afternoon you’re thrilled to get a smiley-face note from the teacher reporting good news from your child’s day and recognition that your work with him at home is showing results. But not every day is a smiley-face day. As parents of kids with social or behavioral challenges, we spend each day waiting for information—praying things will be better and reacting when things are worse.
The information often arrives in a barrage of messages from different sources—from school, coaches, after-school enrichment teachers—and there is always a tone of urgency. Yes, you understand they need to tell you these things, but when you are bombarded with all of this information, things can get overwhelming and it’s hard to make good decisions. This response style, or way of managing, creates an emotional roller coaster that makes it hard to stay calm and keep a healthy perspective.
One of the most important aspects of my coaching practice for children involves coaching their parents, too. And one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your child is to step off that feedback roller coaster and onto a more productive path. Take these five steps to manage the flow of information and your responses for calmer, more constructive communication. Think of it as part of the social-emotional learning curve—for parents!
Set Boundaries. Talk with your child’s teachers, coaches and others about the kind of information that’s most helpful to hear, and how best to share it. Set specific times to talk about your child rather than have casual comments at pickup time present zingers that you can’t respond to right away. Be thoughtful. Let them know you respect their time and value their feedback, but you need to hear in a coordinated way that provides the most holistic, helpful picture of what is going on.
Use a Progress Chart. Ask the school to set up a chart to provide your child with daily ratings on a specific behavior or two, and a mutually agreeable routine for review. This way both you and the teacher can see the big picture, not just one bad day of the week. Ask teachers, counselors or administrators to chart their daily notes on your child’s behaviors that are troublesome. This gives you all a broader picture to see if there are patterns at school or home that are helpful to know about. Be sure that educators know that you understand and share their concerns, and that you are partners in achieving improved behaviors.
Welcome an open and honest exchange. Be honest with the school and let them know that you support them as essential partners in your child’s learning and social and emotional development. Emphasize that you are committed to working actively with them, but that the “firehose” flow of information, especially when it is not calibrated, is overwhelming and not productive for the long term.
Gather your Posse. A circle of support is crucial. It is incredibly important to have some kind of outlet and sense of belonging so that you have people encouraging you and reminding you that this is a long-term journey. Every child is different and as long as you are aware of that and are working with your child on identified challenges, then you are doing the best that you can. And you will see improvement!
Find your Zen. Calming techniques are great ways to balance your thoughts when information flies at you quickly. Calming breaths, stretches or mindfulness meditation, or perhaps just a cup of tea, are forms of self-regulation that can help you put things in perspective and bring that that equanimity to next steps.