Classroom conflict: What to do when your child dislikes their teacher

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Many parents have been greeted by a child who comes home from school declaring: "My teacher is mean!"

According to Dr. Vanessa Jensen, of Cleveland Clinic Children's, when confronted with these situations, the first thing parents should do is lend an open ear.

"I think the first thing is just listen," she said. "Let them talk on; let the child tell their story without judgment -- just let them get it on the table -- with a lot of neutral comments like, ‘ah ha,' or 'hmmm,' or ask neutral questions such as, 'What happened then?' The thing you don't want to do is say, ‘Oh, she is so mean,' or, ‘How could he say that to you? That was inappropriate.' Just don't go there." 

Jensen said sometimes kids just need to whine and complain and know you care enough to listen. 

She recommends having children put their thoughts and feelings into words, which can help them problem-solve their way through the issue.

Then perhaps, if the issue persists, get the teacher's side of the story.

"Sometimes it's just clarifying with the teacher, and asking: ‘You know, Susan came home the other day and she was all upset about something. I was hoping you could help me understand what happened, as far as you're concerned,'" Jensen said. "It may be something very simple, innocuous -- the teacher was having a tough day and gave a funny look, something totally benign."

After getting more information, parents can decide if there is a need to sit down with everyone -- parent, child and teacher to flush things out.

Jensen reminds parents, especially those with very young children, that it's easy for situations to be misinterpreted, especially if a child is very sensitive or anxious.

And remember that conflict can provide a learning opportunity for children of all ages.

Parents should never ignore or completely dismiss a child's concerns, especially if the issues keep recurring or are more serious, but Jensen cautions parents from intervening over every little thing, especially for older students.

She said there comes a time when they would benefit from having the chance to handle what's troubling them on their own.

"You want to start easing your way out of the role of managing everything for your child as they move into high school, so that more and more decisions are made, at least the decisions are talked about and thought about, with the student and the teacher, or the student and the guidance office," she said. "Obviously parent input, and asking questions and giving thoughts is important, but you eventually want them to start having them negotiate those things a lot more on their own, so they are prepared for life after high school." 

Jensen said, oftentimes, student-teacher conflict may be the result of a mismatch between the student's style of learning and the teacher's style of instruction. 

However, if parents are concerned about something inappropriate, or troubling, it's important to follow up on those concerns with the child's teacher or school administrator.