Saturday, August 31, 2013

Teaching Parents Children Must Have Unpleasant Feelings to Learn Coping Skills

Our district starts on the "traditional" calendar so we just finished preservice week and our students start the day after Labor Day.  Many parents were disappointed when they got letters early this week saying which teacher's class we had assigned their child.  This resulted in frantic phone calls, a full email box, and bold parents appearing in our building unannounced demanding to meet with an administrator or counselor. At Open House I was followed while giving a tour to a new family by a parent who wanted to convince me we had made such a poor decision his child would be psychologically damaged if we did not put him with a friend.  I personally rarely support "a child placement based on needing a friend."  As counselors we are in the business of teaching children to make friends.  Also, so many times if friends start the year together and "break up" the teacher is left dealing with a lot of problems that interfere with instruction.  We have a large school with 6 classes at most grades, so unless a child has a decent size friendship circle they could easily be in a class without any of their special friends.  I think that is okay.  I think if parents would send the message it is fine not to be in class with friends because they all go to recess together and after school care and play dates and sports team, it does not mean the friendship is over.
Plus I think allowing students to feel disappointment and see they can cope if one of life's lessons that should happen when children are young.  I worry about the children whose parents fix all their problems in elementary school (get principal to change class placement, make the teacher regive a test, get coach to let them on a team even though they don't have the same ability level).  As children get older parents can't possibly fix all problems.  A middle school counselor mentioned this during our in-service that she felt one of the reasons for the rise in cutting in middle school was because parents can't fix many middle school peer problems and students have no healthy coping skills.  That empowered me to stand my ground when the parent said I was heartless and a terrible counselor because I would not support the parents desire to put their child in a class with a friend.  When told I did not care about his child I calmly said, "No I am actually sticking to the instructional placement because I do care that your son learns not just academics but social emotional learning and skills to work in a class with children who are not friends."  For another person's perspective on giving-kidsthe-right-to-be-unhappy read this article.

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