Problem: Your Child Decides to Dump a Friend.
Stay OUT If... She's just expressing her own likes and dislikes. Preschoolers are usually happy with anyone we pair them up with, but school-age kids have stronger feelings. And as much as we'd love our kids to enjoy the company of certain acquaintances -- like our friends' offspring -- they're entitled to choose whom they pal around with. If your kid is mouthing "No way" when you're on the phone with another parent, you need to respect that. She might know something you don't. Maybe a former friend has gotten involved in a nasty clique, or that kid from preschool has turned into a bus bully. Susan Tohn of Sudbury, MA, tortured her 9-year-old daughter, Lainie, by scheduling frequent activities with a particular classmate in spite of her daughter's protests. "Turns out, the other kid was impossible -- really bossy," Tohn sheepishly admits. "It was nearly a year before I realized she was right."
Butt In If... She's being rude or outright mean. Disliking someone isn't a license to hurt their feelings. "My three school-age kids' friendships have evolved from year to year, but we set a 'no blow-offs allowed' rule. When they run into kids they no longer hang out with, they still have to say 'hi' and be friendly toward them," notes Stephanie Mullen of Blauvelt, NY.
Problem: The New Class List Arrives, and Your Child Has a Teacher She Doesn't Like.
Stay OUT If... She's bummed about getting the "unpopular" teacher. "Alex was really disappointed with her fourth-grade teacher," says Nancy Moreland of Chattanooga. "It wasn't the teacher she wanted, and none of her friends were in her class." Moreland felt for her daughter, and worried a bit since she'd gotten some bad vibes about the teacher via the rumor mill. But she wasn't ready to bail Alex out.
In fact, the rumor mill alone -- though a potent force -- should be suspect. "Strict," for example, doesn't mean "unfair." And different kids respond to different teaching styles. Besides, it's always worth it to give your kid a shot at adapting, a skill that will serve her well later on if she has a difficult boss. It seemed like a good idea at the time to switch my daughter Melissa from a fifth-grade class with a purported disciplinarian she'd heard scary things about to a warmer, fuzzier teacher. But in retrospect, I've always wondered if I really saved her from misery or just gave her an easy out. Alex's mom, on the other hand, had her daughter hang in there. The teacher was indeed as tough as reported, but also very supportive, and it turned out to be one of Alex's best school years yet.
Butt In If... Negative student-teacher chemistry significantly affects your child's attitude toward school. "My son had a horrible teacher early on," recalls one mom, who asked to remain anonymous. The teacher was ready to retire, didn't want to be there, and made the class miserable, calling the kids names like "stupid," she says. "He'd come home crying and didn't want to go to school. I went to talk to the teacher and the principal several times." Now, however, she wishes she'd pulled him out.
Though teaching a child to adapt is important, daily stress -- especially in the early school years -- can set your kid back for a long time to come. If switching to a new classroom isn't an option, keep your complaints on the record via ongoing communication with the principal to minimize any unfair characterizations by the teacher in your child's school record. Another mom I know signed up to be the class parent when her child got a teacher she had heard negative comments about. This way, she was able to build a relationship with the teacher and keep tabs firsthand on what was going on in the classroom.
Much as I know the mitts-off approach is the right one, I still have to sit on my hands sometimes to keep them from going into fix-it mode. Who knows? Maybe someday my kids will be solving problems for me.
Lisa Oppenheimer is a mother of two daughters in Medway, MA.