No, not the sordid details of an affair or your caloric intake for dinner.
What your child’s teacher needs to know about your home life pertains to any changes that you or your family have encountered that may affect, – positively or negatively, – your child.
Recently, a friend of mine confided in me that he was at a loss. How was he to understand the attempts of his son’s teacher to develop behavioural strategies for his JK-aged boy? Imagine my confusion upon hearing about this very sweet, empathetic and gentle child being labeled as “behavioural”. One shouldn’t go around slinging labels around without any thought. The parent was beside himself wondering if he needed to get his son tested for some difficulty. I inquired as to whether as a parent, he observed similar problems at home and at daycare, during play dates and with other family members. You can predict that the answer here was a resounding, “no”. So it seems that this new Junior Kindergarten student was showing huge “behavioural concerns” by not “following instructions, not playing like other children his age, and trying to be independent”. My mind raced to figure out what changes in his life had occurred recently. He had lost a soon-to-be sibling in the months prior to starting school and this was his first foray into school. Those are HUGE life changes from an adult point of view, let alone a child’s perspective. Imagine this scenario: An adult who has a close family member who has inexplicably passed away and this person has also started a new job with new responsibilities, in a new environment and new co-workers. Might this person have some difficulty adjusting? You betcha. I’d say at the very least, many people, – children included, – react by trying to gain some kind of control over their lives, sensing that they have lost much. Granted, not every child goes through such a life-altering experience such as loss at a young age, but there are some changes that your child’s teacher should be aware of if you want her to be on the look-out for any small or large changes in your child’s emotional, academic or social well-being. This is especially true if the child has just started in that class and the teacher had very little contact with the child before the changes occurred. In my friend’s case, it’s important to note that the father had already spoken to the teacher about it previously, but since the teacher didn’t know the child from Jack, she made the assumption that this child had always had some concerns. Your child’s teachers need to be able to use various strategies to accommodate for children going through difficult times, and understanding the problem is half the battle. Luckily, this dad is a great parent and understood the importance of creating a positive partnership with the teacher to get his son through the rough bumps.
Here are other changes to consider sharing. Whether they are difficult for YOU to discuss almost doesn’t matter; you can be general in your description, but believe me, your child’s needs you to speak about it’s potential impact.
- The hardest, and likely one of the most common changes, is separation or divorce, and these come in as many varieties as shoes do, so this is a difficult one to tackle both as a parent and as an educator. Family changes will affect the communication that your teacher has with both parents. If the teacher is aware of these family changes, something as simple as sending out two copies of Report Cards or newsletters may help to create a sense of balance in a relationship possibly wrought with personal power issues. It may help the child feel some relief to know that both parents are still considered to be important in their education.
- Re-marriage and the merging of two families into one is another biggie, more because of changes in the family dynamic that affect all of the children and adults involved. You remember: every little action, has a reaction…
- Financial changes can be embarrassing for some (unless it’s the 649 that you won), but there are children who won’t bring back field trip forms because they don’t want to cause undue burden on their financially-struggling parents. Knowing that times are tough can help the teacher identify if the child can receive funds from the school, (which is confidential and always do-able).
- Social changes that your child has gone through (like losing a best friend to an argument or having a friend move to another city). As small as these changes seem, they are a great segway to generate discussion about your child’s emotional and social well being. Teachers are keenly aware of their students’ social realm and can incorporate many activities and opportunities into regular classroom learning experiences that give chances for students who are struggling socially, to gain some social capital.
- Discussing your personal health with a teacher may seem very scary and even inappropriate, but imagine the outcome of not letting your child’s teacher know that you are having health issues. Sharing might help to explain the nuances of a child who seems withdrawn or even an escalation in student abseenteeism. Yes, there are parents who cannot physically take their kids to school somedays, and some children who “parent” their own mums and dads when they’re very ill.
- Frequent, recent or upcoming moves to new homes can be devastating for many kids and some children learn to avoid “attaching” themselves to friends thinking that they may soon be leaving them.
Finally, change is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact, change is necessary for growth, however, if parents can confide in a trusted teacher in their child’s life, that educator will have more tools and strategies for your individual child. Keep in mind that teachers have home lives and experiences as children that may actually help a child.
So there you have it, Tackling Tough Issues…all in a day’s work. Oh yeah, and making for happier kids too.