Third day of second grade and he doesn't like the teacher

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  September 7, 2011 06:00 AM

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Dear Barbara,
I know you answer questions in the order in which they're received, but someone once told me you push questions to the top if they are "emergency" and I think this one is!!!!!

The first day of school, my son said he didn't like his teacher. I told him to give her a chance. The second day he said he still didn't like her but it was the day before the weekend and he didn't talk about it again so I figured it would pass. Today, Tues, the third day of school, he said in the morning, "I'm giving her another chance." After school he said he still doesn't like her.

I need help, quick!! I don't want to be an interfering parent; my mom was one of those and it always embarrassed me. But clearly something isn't working!!
Do I call the teacher? The principal? Do I drag him in kicking and crying?! Help, help, help!

From: Upset & unsure (city withheld on request)

Dear Upset & Unsure,

It sounds like your son is indeed on his way to not wanting to go to school. School refusal is serious because it takes on a life of its own. So, yes, you absolutely call the teacher FIRST (you always want to go up the chain) and then the principal. Call the teacher and leave a message as soon as you read this. Ask her to call or email you asap. If she doesn't, then put in a message to the principal and tell her you've got a potential case of school refusal on your hands and you need guidance.

You don't want to let him stay home; just one day of letting him stay home makes it that much harder for him to go back. What's more, by keeping him home, you become an enabler: "Mom/dad doesn't think I can handle this...." Doesn't matter what "this" is; in his mind, it's insurmountable.

So what is "this"? Most likely, on that first day, he interpreted something the teacher said or did to mean that she doesn't like him. It might have been a look she gave him or a tone of voice. It could be so insignificant that she won't remember what it was or maybe she will remember having been stern with him.The other possibility is that he something happened that made him feel inadequate. This is a stage of development when kids are more and more aware of each other's and their own abilities: "John reads chapter books and I don't." Whatever it is, kids are sensitive and you and the teacher need to get to the bottom of it.

Has your son been able to be specific about why he doesn't like the teacher? If he is, even if what he says sounds like nothing to you, offer a sympathetic response: "Sounds like that really upset/embarrassed you." That makes him not feel alone with his feelings. Then you can say, "Sometimes things happen at school that we don't like. It makes you wish you didn't have to go. But you do."

Once the teacher is aware this is happening, expect her to go out of her way to make him feel comfortable in the classroom. I know what you mean by having been embarrassed by your mom as a child; I think that's happened to almost everyone sooner or later. But right now, you need to be a proactive mom. For more on the subject, here's a Q and my A from a few years ago, as well as a piece I like that the NYU Child Study Center sent parents a few years ago.

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18 comments so far...
  1. The LW obviously doesn't know how to sit down with her son and ASK him WHAT is happening.

    Emailing any expert WITHOUT this vital information from the source can't possibly do anything useful to resolve the real problem. Emailing an expert will only make the parent feel like they have done due diligence on behalf of the child.

    The problem may not even be the teacher but might be something like a bullying classmate. Maybe this parent should go to parenting class to learn HOW TO ASK THE KID ABOUT HIS FEELINGS. Skip the blather about "validating", just LISTEN AND GET THE FACTS. Then there is something to work on.

    Posted by Irene September 7, 11 07:33 AM
  1. Huh? Emergency? Yikes. While it's important and you should address any issues they have, please...take it from a parent of two boys...this is not an 'emergency'.

    Posted by DT September 7, 11 11:50 AM
  1. Whoa, Irene, a little harsh, don't you think?
    I agree that LW needs to try to get to the bottom of this with her child, but she very well might be getting an answer like "I just don't like her." or "She's mean" without a lot of details. He may not even know why he doesn't like her. She might look like someone that he doesn't like, or someone from a movie that frightened him.
    If the kid is already upset, upsetting him more isn't going to help. LW is going to have to talk to him, but talking to the teacher and having her say "Hmmm, I wonder if it is because THIS happened on the first day" could certainly help that conversation along. The teacher may not know that this is even going on, so getting her in the loop is really important. The adults will need to work together to help this child through this, and I think starting with a conversation with the teacher is the right way to go.

    Posted by Mary September 7, 11 12:01 PM
  1. And also, sometimes kids just need to learn that you're not going to like everyone you come across, and sometimes you need to suck it up and work with them anyways. Make it clear that disrepecting the teacher will not be tolerated, and that the child must go to school and do everything they are asked, but also make it clear that they are not required to like the teacher.

    I have explained this to my kids this way: I have a coworker I detest. He is rude and mysoginistic and blames everyone else for his problems. But I still have to be polite to him, act professionally, and do my job. I can't change to another department, I can't wave a magic wand and make him go away. I need to just do my job and ignore him. Kids need to learn lessons like these early and often.


    Posted by BMS September 7, 11 12:38 PM
  1. Irene's comment is harsh and unhelpful. I assume the LW wasn't able to get this info from her kid. Many children, including my own, won't be able to answer a question about why they don't like something. And sometimes, they just flat out refuse to tell the whole story--probably because it's scary or embarrassing.

    Also, sometimes you just don't get the truth from a preschooler. My child makes up really elaborate, realistic stories about what happened to her during the day--which, by the way, I know she really believes at the time she's telling it--but I find out later that it never happened!

    I agree 100% that getting together with the teacher to solve this problem early on is the best solution.

    Posted by momof2 September 7, 11 01:15 PM
  1. DT.. I know right? "emergency"? An "emergency" is what 911 deals with. This is not even on any urgent list if you ask me. Sorry, just saying! Anyway. I have to agree with many of the commenters on this board. I do think LW should start with her child. It is a start. It doesn't hurt, and like momof2 stated, a preschooler is not exactly able to logically explain the situation or may only be telling his version of the "truth". IN the child's mind, it makes sense! If you have already done that, then ask your child's teacher if she has noticed this. She probably sees this year after year. Maybe she can give you more insight as to what is going on. Maybe someone is bothering your child. Maybe you can sense that it could be something with the teacher. . You won't know until you ask. it is ONLY the third day of schoool

    Posted by jd September 7, 11 02:42 PM
  1. Emergency?? Really?? From a Mom of 3, you are in for a world of shock when an actual emergency hits!! Call the teacher & have a grown up discussion - pretty simple...

    Posted by Summer September 7, 11 03:35 PM
  1. I agree with momof2 -- even the most articulate of 7-year-olds probably could not fully express what is going on, and interviewing them after school to find out what "bad" things happened that day only sets up a cycle of negative expectations. Far better to start the year off by establishing a good rapport with the teacher. You can approach her asking for her help and calling on her expertise -- it doesn't have to be confrontational. I'm all for a face-to-face conversation if possible -- so much subtlety is lost in email.

    The letter-writer might also try talking to the parents of a classmate. Does your son have a buddy in the class whose parents you know a bit? A playdate for the kids with a chance for the parents to touch base might also be helpful.

    Posted by gastrogal September 7, 11 04:32 PM
  1. Everyone seems to be assuming that there is no good reason for the child to dislike the teacher. Some teachers are cruel or so incompetent as to mistreat kids. My non-verbal, disabled son's preschool teacher grabbed him by the face and yelled at him. I never would have known if the classroom aide had not come forward and told me what happened. That teacher was "investigated" but didn't lose her job. My son was switched out of the room, and so was his aide. What does she do with a bunch of preschoolers now that no one is looking?

    While mom should absolutely check in with the teacher, if it isn't resolved, she can ask the school psychologist to pop in to the classroom. It can be phrased without making accusations as in "Can you check in on my son in the classroom?" The school psychologist can then determine if there is something particular that is upsetting the little boy during class.

    Posted by Dawn September 8, 11 06:38 AM
  1. My 3 year old does this with her pre-school too. It's not an emergency - yeesh. And no, there have been no instances of abuse as in Dawn's case or anything else. She says her teacher and classmates are "shy" which we've learned to mean she feels shy around them and would rather just stay home.

    But seriously? If there is nothing like abuse or bullying and he just doesn't like her (it happens a lot, believe it or not!) then this is an excellent time to impart the lesson that you "respect the rank, not necessarily the individual". I deal with it every day with officers who shouldn't be left in charge of a burn pit but I still have to respect their position. A valuable life's lesson, believe me.

    Posted by Phe September 8, 11 01:30 PM
  1. Irene's comments are harsh and over the top, but she is right. Either the LW didn't ask "why," did ask but still doesn't know, or does know but didn't think it was important enough to mention here. In any case, I'd call that a clear bad job with the parenting. I don't see how Barbara or anyone can give advice without knowing the "why."

    I also don't know why several commenters (momof2, jd) have tailored their advice for preschoolers when this child is in the SECOND GRADE. I also don't know why some of you feel that a second grader might be unable to fully articulate himself to a parent. If that's true then this child has far worse problems than this.

    Posted by geocool September 8, 11 04:20 PM
  1. My experience with kids is that when you sit down and hold them, and ask them what they did that day (no "goods" or "bads" in your questions), that you can eventually get a pretty complete story. You can ask how the teacher deals with other students in the class, to keep it along the lines of a narrative rather than self-pity.

    The trick is to sit there and listen attentively until your kid starts talking freely. They might start talking at their evening bath, or before bedtime, or out of the blue. You really have to be ready to listen.

    Of course it is necessary to ask the other side what took place if there was a negative interaction. You show your kid that you WILL ask the other side for their story.

    A school-based urgent problem would be a kid coming home with a sudden high fever, sudden rash or vomiting; a bite or cut or big bruise that might have a broken bone underneath; a broken tooth. These warrant a prompt home photography session, plus a call to the doctor.

    One follows up physical damage originating at school with a registered letter to the principal to formally complain and to ask what measures are being taken to protect the safety of children in their care. You might even call your lawyer and ask for help.

    Repeated stealing of lunch or money, repeated tearing of clothing, defecation on your kid's clothes by another child, all warrant a photography session plus a prompt call to the school as these are signs of serious problems.

    But when a mother pushes her inability to ask her son routine questions as her "emergency", then there might be serious doubts about parenting skills. I mean, there WILL FOR SURE be the first of several parent-teacher meetings sometime in October, right? The LW WILL FOR SURE have to go and talk civilly at that time? And the kid knows this perfectly well, right?

    Posted by Irene September 8, 11 07:39 PM
  1. Geocool, Where does it say he is in the second grade? People are unsure of exactly what grade he is in. It could be Pre-K, Kindergarten 1st etc etc. The letter doesn't specify. While you are right in that technically he is probably NOT a "preschooler" because well, he is in school therefore, he can't be "preschool". Anyway, Kids leave vital information out because they may think their explanation is enough to get the full story conveyed. When in actually there are blanks left to be filled. IF in fact this child is at the second grade level, yes, he probably is capable of articulating this to his parent but it doesn't necessarily mean that he is. I too, agree with Irene and wanted to say that myself but decided against it.

    Posted by jd September 9, 11 08:33 AM
  1. Geo, never mind It is too early for this...the headline states SECOND GRADE! haha! Where's my coffee?

    Posted by jd September 9, 11 08:57 AM
  1. jd: It says it right in the subject title of the post: "Third Day of Second Grade and..."

    I think that's why most of us who read this assumed he was in second grade.

    Posted by Phe September 9, 11 11:04 AM
  1. It indicates right in the title that he is in 2nd grade....does anyone read titles?

    I have found that sometimes kids will tell you what is wrong and sometimes they just can't find the words. Last year my 7th grader didn't like his ELA teacher and it turns out that she just wasn't as 'warm & fuzzy' as his 6th grade ELA teacher was. Once he got used to her style she became one of his favorite teachers.

    Posted by Momto3 September 9, 11 12:42 PM
  1. I posted a second comment "taking it back" soon after my comment was made. Sorry folks! Note the time my comment #14 was posted (8:57)....and the next comments...11:04 etc? I realized it said the 2nd grade after I posted that comment. The actual letter is more important than the headline. I could be wrong but it seems I am not the only one who isn't reading.

    Posted by jd September 12, 11 07:29 AM
  1. Ask him what specifically doesn't he like about the teacher, if you haven't already. It's only the third day of school, so how much could possibly have happened to make him dislike the teacher? It could be something simple as the teacher called him out for talking to friends in class.

    It doesn't sound like he is refusing to go to school, just that he doesn't like this particular teacher. It happens, you can't like everyone you meet. I didn't like my sixth grade teacher. Learning how to be polite and respectful of someone you don't like is a good lesson to learn.

    Posted by m September 12, 11 02:24 PM
 
18 comments so far...
  1. The LW obviously doesn't know how to sit down with her son and ASK him WHAT is happening.

    Emailing any expert WITHOUT this vital information from the source can't possibly do anything useful to resolve the real problem. Emailing an expert will only make the parent feel like they have done due diligence on behalf of the child.

    The problem may not even be the teacher but might be something like a bullying classmate. Maybe this parent should go to parenting class to learn HOW TO ASK THE KID ABOUT HIS FEELINGS. Skip the blather about "validating", just LISTEN AND GET THE FACTS. Then there is something to work on.

    Posted by Irene September 7, 11 07:33 AM
  1. Huh? Emergency? Yikes. While it's important and you should address any issues they have, please...take it from a parent of two boys...this is not an 'emergency'.

    Posted by DT September 7, 11 11:50 AM
  1. Whoa, Irene, a little harsh, don't you think?
    I agree that LW needs to try to get to the bottom of this with her child, but she very well might be getting an answer like "I just don't like her." or "She's mean" without a lot of details. He may not even know why he doesn't like her. She might look like someone that he doesn't like, or someone from a movie that frightened him.
    If the kid is already upset, upsetting him more isn't going to help. LW is going to have to talk to him, but talking to the teacher and having her say "Hmmm, I wonder if it is because THIS happened on the first day" could certainly help that conversation along. The teacher may not know that this is even going on, so getting her in the loop is really important. The adults will need to work together to help this child through this, and I think starting with a conversation with the teacher is the right way to go.

    Posted by Mary September 7, 11 12:01 PM
  1. And also, sometimes kids just need to learn that you're not going to like everyone you come across, and sometimes you need to suck it up and work with them anyways. Make it clear that disrepecting the teacher will not be tolerated, and that the child must go to school and do everything they are asked, but also make it clear that they are not required to like the teacher.

    I have explained this to my kids this way: I have a coworker I detest. He is rude and mysoginistic and blames everyone else for his problems. But I still have to be polite to him, act professionally, and do my job. I can't change to another department, I can't wave a magic wand and make him go away. I need to just do my job and ignore him. Kids need to learn lessons like these early and often.


    Posted by BMS September 7, 11 12:38 PM
  1. Irene's comment is harsh and unhelpful. I assume the LW wasn't able to get this info from her kid. Many children, including my own, won't be able to answer a question about why they don't like something. And sometimes, they just flat out refuse to tell the whole story--probably because it's scary or embarrassing.

    Also, sometimes you just don't get the truth from a preschooler. My child makes up really elaborate, realistic stories about what happened to her during the day--which, by the way, I know she really believes at the time she's telling it--but I find out later that it never happened!

    I agree 100% that getting together with the teacher to solve this problem early on is the best solution.

    Posted by momof2 September 7, 11 01:15 PM
  1. DT.. I know right? "emergency"? An "emergency" is what 911 deals with. This is not even on any urgent list if you ask me. Sorry, just saying! Anyway. I have to agree with many of the commenters on this board. I do think LW should start with her child. It is a start. It doesn't hurt, and like momof2 stated, a preschooler is not exactly able to logically explain the situation or may only be telling his version of the "truth". IN the child's mind, it makes sense! If you have already done that, then ask your child's teacher if she has noticed this. She probably sees this year after year. Maybe she can give you more insight as to what is going on. Maybe someone is bothering your child. Maybe you can sense that it could be something with the teacher. . You won't know until you ask. it is ONLY the third day of schoool

    Posted by jd September 7, 11 02:42 PM
  1. Emergency?? Really?? From a Mom of 3, you are in for a world of shock when an actual emergency hits!! Call the teacher & have a grown up discussion - pretty simple...

    Posted by Summer September 7, 11 03:35 PM
  1. I agree with momof2 -- even the most articulate of 7-year-olds probably could not fully express what is going on, and interviewing them after school to find out what "bad" things happened that day only sets up a cycle of negative expectations. Far better to start the year off by establishing a good rapport with the teacher. You can approach her asking for her help and calling on her expertise -- it doesn't have to be confrontational. I'm all for a face-to-face conversation if possible -- so much subtlety is lost in email.

    The letter-writer might also try talking to the parents of a classmate. Does your son have a buddy in the class whose parents you know a bit? A playdate for the kids with a chance for the parents to touch base might also be helpful.

    Posted by gastrogal September 7, 11 04:32 PM
  1. Everyone seems to be assuming that there is no good reason for the child to dislike the teacher. Some teachers are cruel or so incompetent as to mistreat kids. My non-verbal, disabled son's preschool teacher grabbed him by the face and yelled at him. I never would have known if the classroom aide had not come forward and told me what happened. That teacher was "investigated" but didn't lose her job. My son was switched out of the room, and so was his aide. What does she do with a bunch of preschoolers now that no one is looking?

    While mom should absolutely check in with the teacher, if it isn't resolved, she can ask the school psychologist to pop in to the classroom. It can be phrased without making accusations as in "Can you check in on my son in the classroom?" The school psychologist can then determine if there is something particular that is upsetting the little boy during class.

    Posted by Dawn September 8, 11 06:38 AM
  1. My 3 year old does this with her pre-school too. It's not an emergency - yeesh. And no, there have been no instances of abuse as in Dawn's case or anything else. She says her teacher and classmates are "shy" which we've learned to mean she feels shy around them and would rather just stay home.

    But seriously? If there is nothing like abuse or bullying and he just doesn't like her (it happens a lot, believe it or not!) then this is an excellent time to impart the lesson that you "respect the rank, not necessarily the individual". I deal with it every day with officers who shouldn't be left in charge of a burn pit but I still have to respect their position. A valuable life's lesson, believe me.

    Posted by Phe September 8, 11 01:30 PM
  1. Irene's comments are harsh and over the top, but she is right. Either the LW didn't ask "why," did ask but still doesn't know, or does know but didn't think it was important enough to mention here. In any case, I'd call that a clear bad job with the parenting. I don't see how Barbara or anyone can give advice without knowing the "why."

    I also don't know why several commenters (momof2, jd) have tailored their advice for preschoolers when this child is in the SECOND GRADE. I also don't know why some of you feel that a second grader might be unable to fully articulate himself to a parent. If that's true then this child has far worse problems than this.

    Posted by geocool September 8, 11 04:20 PM
  1. My experience with kids is that when you sit down and hold them, and ask them what they did that day (no "goods" or "bads" in your questions), that you can eventually get a pretty complete story. You can ask how the teacher deals with other students in the class, to keep it along the lines of a narrative rather than self-pity.

    The trick is to sit there and listen attentively until your kid starts talking freely. They might start talking at their evening bath, or before bedtime, or out of the blue. You really have to be ready to listen.

    Of course it is necessary to ask the other side what took place if there was a negative interaction. You show your kid that you WILL ask the other side for their story.

    A school-based urgent problem would be a kid coming home with a sudden high fever, sudden rash or vomiting; a bite or cut or big bruise that might have a broken bone underneath; a broken tooth. These warrant a prompt home photography session, plus a call to the doctor.

    One follows up physical damage originating at school with a registered letter to the principal to formally complain and to ask what measures are being taken to protect the safety of children in their care. You might even call your lawyer and ask for help.

    Repeated stealing of lunch or money, repeated tearing of clothing, defecation on your kid's clothes by another child, all warrant a photography session plus a prompt call to the school as these are signs of serious problems.

    But when a mother pushes her inability to ask her son routine questions as her "emergency", then there might be serious doubts about parenting skills. I mean, there WILL FOR SURE be the first of several parent-teacher meetings sometime in October, right? The LW WILL FOR SURE have to go and talk civilly at that time? And the kid knows this perfectly well, right?

    Posted by Irene September 8, 11 07:39 PM
  1. Geocool, Where does it say he is in the second grade? People are unsure of exactly what grade he is in. It could be Pre-K, Kindergarten 1st etc etc. The letter doesn't specify. While you are right in that technically he is probably NOT a "preschooler" because well, he is in school therefore, he can't be "preschool". Anyway, Kids leave vital information out because they may think their explanation is enough to get the full story conveyed. When in actually there are blanks left to be filled. IF in fact this child is at the second grade level, yes, he probably is capable of articulating this to his parent but it doesn't necessarily mean that he is. I too, agree with Irene and wanted to say that myself but decided against it.

    Posted by jd September 9, 11 08:33 AM
  1. Geo, never mind It is too early for this...the headline states SECOND GRADE! haha! Where's my coffee?

    Posted by jd September 9, 11 08:57 AM
  1. jd: It says it right in the subject title of the post: "Third Day of Second Grade and..."

    I think that's why most of us who read this assumed he was in second grade.

    Posted by Phe September 9, 11 11:04 AM
  1. It indicates right in the title that he is in 2nd grade....does anyone read titles?

    I have found that sometimes kids will tell you what is wrong and sometimes they just can't find the words. Last year my 7th grader didn't like his ELA teacher and it turns out that she just wasn't as 'warm & fuzzy' as his 6th grade ELA teacher was. Once he got used to her style she became one of his favorite teachers.

    Posted by Momto3 September 9, 11 12:42 PM
  1. I posted a second comment "taking it back" soon after my comment was made. Sorry folks! Note the time my comment #14 was posted (8:57)....and the next comments...11:04 etc? I realized it said the 2nd grade after I posted that comment. The actual letter is more important than the headline. I could be wrong but it seems I am not the only one who isn't reading.

    Posted by jd September 12, 11 07:29 AM
  1. Ask him what specifically doesn't he like about the teacher, if you haven't already. It's only the third day of school, so how much could possibly have happened to make him dislike the teacher? It could be something simple as the teacher called him out for talking to friends in class.

    It doesn't sound like he is refusing to go to school, just that he doesn't like this particular teacher. It happens, you can't like everyone you meet. I didn't like my sixth grade teacher. Learning how to be polite and respectful of someone you don't like is a good lesson to learn.

    Posted by m September 12, 11 02:24 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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