Working Couple's Problem Child Knowledge of family details helps teachers provide solutions to a child’s school challenges. BY BARBARA J. RUBIN, PSY.D.
The next time you're handing the teacher an apple, include some home information too.
&tAs the school year gets off to a fresh start, many parents will soon hear the good, the bad and the ugly about their elementary school child’s progress. For dual career couples, the child’s academic progress can be an especially sensitive issue because the stress of the parents’ work schedules can take a toll on the child’s ability to adapt and focus.
It is not unusual for a youngster to be labeled a "problem child; by his teachers as a result of aggressive behavior with peers, inability to follow classroom rules, defiance toward the teacher, and more. The school nurse or psychologist, and even the physical education teacher or a coach may be called in to help manage this child.
Though such a scenario is certainly not true of every child whose parents have full work lives, this unfortunate scenario is all too common. When it does occur, it is wise for parents to make sure teachers, coaches and administrators are well-informed about the nature of their respective work lifestyles and requirements so the child’s behaviors can be observed and monitored accordingly.
Regrettably, if negative labels are assigned to kids without such information in hand, those labels tend to unnecessarily follow a child through subsequent grade levels. Only an astute teacher will notice a discrepancy between what he has heard about this child and what he has observed, and inquire about that discrepancy directly with the parents. Since children mimic coping and communication styles, learning about the child’s family context helps teachers more objectively and effectively evaluate the child’s classroom behavior.
This checklist generates important information teachers and parents can share with one another to best evaluate and react to a child’s school performance:
1. What are the parents’ work schedules like? 2. Who is able to pick up and drop off the child at school? 3. How much bonding time does each of the parents create with the child to work on homework together, attend school activities, and so on? 4. How does the child characterize his relationship with each of his parents? 5. Does the child appear to have a healthy attachment to one parent over the other? 6. How do the parents describe the way they discipline the child? Do their styles differ dramatically? 7. How do the parents describe their ability to communicate when they have conflict?
Teachers can avoid the tendency to misread a child’s behaviors as "a problem" if they know what unique variables the child may be dealing with or exposed to with dual career parents. This provides the greatest chance for the child to receive positive support, guidance and attention rather than negative characterizations.
Dr. Barbara J. Rubin is a licensed psychologist and registered custody evaluator. She serves as the court psychologist in Fulton County, GA Superior Court’s Family Division. Dr. Rubin also has a private practice, and can be reached through her website: www.drbrubin.com.