“We don’t typically write an incident report when the only first aid that’s required is an ice pack.” This was the principal’s response to my inquiry. Another child tackled my son on the playground during recess. It wasn’t until the incident had escalated to something physical that my five-year-old told me this had happened more than once. He was being picked on at school and I had no idea.
He’d been fighting me on going to school for the last few weeks, citing that “everybody’s mean to me.” I shrugged it off as him being sensitive, but now I wondered: what else had I missed? I’m a stay-at-home mom. It’s my job to be on top of this stuff.
The facts are this: he’s not in private Montessori preschool anymore. Gone are the days of detailed happy face reports outlining when he used the bathroom and how many pictures he finger-painted. This is public school. There are 22 other kids in his classroom. If I want to find out what’s going on, I have to do it myself.
I needed to find a way to open up the communication lines—and quick, because this is kindergarten. It’s only going to get tougher to extract information as he gets older.
- Ask leading questions. My oldest is a little shy. By the end of the day he’s perfectly content eating a snack in his booster seat and looking out the window. However, there are two questions that all my kids have to answer when I pick them up from school. The first is, “what was the most difficult part of your day?” If I notice they’re bummed out I’ll swap it out with, “what was something that happened today to make you sad?” They might have to think before answering, but the question doesn’t give them the option of saying “yes” or “no” as a response. I like to end on a positive note, so once that discussion is squared away I ask with enthusiasm, “What was the most favorite part of your day?!”
- Pillow talk. We have three kids under the age of six in our home. Everyone likes to share certain details of their day. It’s typically during dinner, and all at the same time. But if I really want to find out what’s on their tiny minds I lay down next to them at bedtime. There’s something about being tired and relaxed, and physically close that makes them feel safe to open up. It only takes about 15 minutes but man do they spill the beans!
- Volunteer in the classroom. While there are 22 other kids in my son’s class, he talked about the same three kids over and over. One of them sat across from him at his table. He was very upset that this particular friend didn’t have to sit in his chair, and he “got massages” when he was bad. My first day volunteering in the class I realized that this student has special needs. He has an aid that gives him compressions when he needs it. Seeing this first-hand allowed me to talk to my son about differences. Just getting to know the personalities of his other classmates helps me to better understand when he’s not getting along with someone. Keeping in mind, he’s going to school with most of these kids for the next 12 years.
- Talk to the teacher. My mother, father and sister are all in the education field. It takes a tremendous amount of patience and stamina to deal with the students. And, sometimes even more to deal with the crazy parents. I have an open dialogue with my children’s teachers. I enjoy listening to their perspectives on my littles and want them to feel comfortable sharing information—good or bad—about my kid. After all, they are with them more than me during the school year. I reinforce how much I appreciate all the work they do which hopefully softens the blow when my kid is a jerk at school. Because newsflash: your kid is not an angel. No one is.
- Take a parenting class. Books are great, but what’s really helped me is listening to other parents share their stories. Turns out other kids have issues too—and that’s okay! It can be incredibly scary and isolating dealing with a difficult or upset child. Some people might be embarrassed to talk about it, but I’ve found that it really helps to connect with other parents. I’ve attended Conscious Discipline classes through my daughter’s Goddard School. Most public schools also offer classes that are organized by the guidance counselor. All you have to do is ask.
Speaking of other parents, how do you get your kids to open up? I’m still learning as I go. Lucky for me I’ve got three kids. Hopefully, I’ll have this all nailed down by the time my third kid starts talking in sentences. Fingers crossed.