My kid was humiliated by a teacher when he was 6 and now he doesn’t enjoy school. What can I do to help him like school again?
MOM: The first thing you have to figure out is exactly what happened. Sometimes an incident like this may show up as a change in your child’s behavior even if he hasn’t told you what caused it. You really have to talk to him directly about it. For example, you could say something like: “You know, you really seem different after school these days. Was there anything at school that you want to tell me about?” Or, “Did anything happen between you and your teacher?” Or, “Did something happen to upset you?” Without that kind of information, it’s very hard to do an intervention.
If a child tells you that Mrs. Smith made fun of me at school because “I couldn’t read the paragraph well,” and now he doesn’t want to do any school work, you will have to address the problem both with the child and the teacher. If I were that parent, I would request a conference with that teacher to talk about how Johnny is upset about what happened. Find out if she remembers what happened. If she’s amendable and says, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize what I had done,” then she can help tremendously by taking the child aside and talking about what happened and apologizing. An apology from a grown-up goes a huge distance for a child.
MOLLY: What if the teacher isn’t amendable or open to the conversation?
MOM: If the teacher is like, well, tough, I’m not going to do anything about this, then there’s nothing more you can do with the teacher about this. Then what you have to do is be talking more directly with your child. What you say is, “Honey, I talked to your teacher and she’s probably not going to talk to you about it, but I think she feels badly about what happened. And the fact is that you’re a very good reader and let’s see if we can help you be an even better reader. Why don’t you and I read together in the evenings before you go to bed? You’ll read a paragraph and then I’ll read a paragraph –we can alternate– so that your reading will get better and you’ll feel more comfortable in school.” You can help the child with mastering whatever it was that caused the mocking by the teacher.
MOLLY: Do you have to tell your kid that you talked to the teacher? Should you tell them?
MOM: I think so. I don’t know that it’s essential, but the reason I think so is that it’s important for the child to know that the parent understands him and how he feels. And also that the parent is doing something active about it and supporting the kid. Probably the most important thing is to help the child with whatever the subject it is that’s causing the problem. I have seen adult people in my practice who have never really recovered from this kind of public humiliation in a classroom. They can carry this kind of humiliation with them forever and it can ruin the educational experience of schooling for them.
MOLLY: I do think that can happen!
MOM: I’ve seen it happen. A lot of the things we talk about in this blog are things that happen to kids that will have ramifications that appear when they grow into adults.
MOLLY: And to head these long-term issues off early…?
MOM: Right, the more time that goes by between the event and dealing with it, the longer it will take to resolve.
MOLLY: But can you resolve an old hurt like this in therapy as an adult, years later?
MOM: Yes, I think so. You can talk about it. You can try to see it from an adult point of view. The adult is still thinking about it as if he were a child. He likely doesn’t see the incident from an adult point of view, but rather from a child’s point of view. He could be forty years old, but when he talks about it, the feelings that come up have to do when he was 6 years old or 10 years old, or whenever it was that it happened. It’s a unique form of PTSD. You can help the scarred adult by talking about the incident and his memories. And, most importantly, by reminding him that he’s an adult now and he can interpret it differently than he did when he was a child.
Have you or your child experienced this? Comment below if you’ve had success using other strategies to help a child overcome humiliation by a teacher. Or Contact Us if you have a parenting question you’d like to see addressed.