Q: What’s a parent to do? Your child confides in you about a teacher’s behavior in the classroom, but expects you to keep silent about comments/actions that are demeaning, hurtful, even abusive.
How does one bridge not wanting to speak forth for fear of reprisal on a child already stressed and scared — against feeling the need to communicate with administrators, who should be made aware of what’s happening in the classroom. How do we advocate our children’s concerns without creating conflicts or damaging relationships?
Signed, Between a rock and a hard place

A: There are certain factors that must first be considered before deciding on a plan of action. These include: accuracy of information reported, severity of reported misconduct by the teacher, and the child’s age. Based on these factors let’s consider some scenarios and possible responses:

If we believe that the information is accurate and the misconduct severe, it is important that it be addressed. Consider meeting with the teacher first and give your child the option to attend (the older the child, the more appropriate the invitation). If this meeting is unsatisfactory, request a meeting with the principal, who should decide whether or not to invite the teacher to this initial meeting. Continue working with the principal until a mutually agreed upon plan of action is developed. While you can then go beyond the principal, if you have been reasonable it is unlikely that this will be necessary.

If the situation is less clear and/or the misconduct is not severe, first make sure you’re your child feels heard and supported. After allowing your child to fully share his/her thoughts and feelings, brainstorm possible next steps together. Discuss options (e.g. talking with the teacher, talking with the principal, writing the teacher a note, trying not to let the teacher’s style be as upsetting, promising to let you know if it happens again, etc.) and empower your child with the final say on what approach to use (the older the child, the more appropriate the empowerment). If these issues continue, consider the recommendations as outlined above.

It is also important to remember that our children will need to effectively deal with a variety of teachers, some more challenging than others, throughout their educational career. If the circumstances are not severe, helping children learn how to deal with these issues on their own (especially as they get older) will help them deal more effectively with challenging people in other areas of their lives as well.