Child Caring

First-grader is afraid of the teacher, mom's afraid to tell her

Dear Barbara,

How do you tell a teacher that your child is afraid of her? Our daughter is in first grade. She's very talkative and I suspect the teacher has asked (told?) her not to talk during lessons. Maybe she wasn't so nice about it? I don't know, but my daughter told us this morning she doesn't like first grade because she's afraid of the teacher. Her exact words. I promised I would talk to the teacher. But what can I say???? I am not good at confrontation, and, honestly?, I'm a little afraid of authority figures myself. (!)

From: W for Wimp, Hackensack, NJ

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Dear WP,

Thinking of yourself as a wimp is the wrong way to start this. Many people are uncomfortable telling a person in authority -- especially someone who has authority over their child -- that things are not going well. But: It's your job. Does it help to think of yourself as taking on the role of advocate? As if you're in a play?

Before your meeting, start with these two assumptions: (1) You are in a partnership with the teacher. Any teacher. Every teacher. You're a team. (2) Every teacher wants to do well by every child. OK, OK, I know there are some exceptions; but let's assume that this teacher did not intend to make your child afraid of her.

Now follow these steps:

1. Make an appointment to do this in person. Don't expect to do this casually, before or after school, as kids are milling about, and don't do it via email. By asking for an appointment, you signal that you have something important to talk about.

2. It's always helpful to start with something positive. Find something nice that you can say about the start of the year.

3. Establish that you consider yourself a partner, a team, with a teacher. Use one of those words, and say that you hope you can work together so that your child has the best year possible. The more you come across as collaborative, the less defensive she is likely to be.

4. I'd then say something like this: "With that in mind, I wanted you to know that my daughter told me she's afraid of you. She didn't say why. Do you have any ideas what's going on? " I would use the words your daughter did. Keep in mind that you don't want to make an accusation. Consider yourself a reporter who is passing along information.

5. Hopefully, her response will be, "My gosh, I had no idea! We have to fix this." Hopefully, the two of you will now be engaged as in a conversation. If she says that your daughter was talking too much, acknowledge that your daughter can be talkative. Then ask, "How can we fix this?" That's a collaborative response, one that the typical teacher will appreciate.

6. Make a plan to talk again in a week to report to each other how things are going.

You're wise to do this quickly -- you don't want the problem, whatever it is, to fester.