What You'll Learn
- Why might some kids clash with their teachers?
- How can parents help kids resolve conflicts with teachers?
- When should you step in and talk to the teacher directly?
Teachers can have a big impact on kids. And usually that’s great! But when your child is having trouble with a teacher it can be very upsetting. Trouble with teachers can leave kids feeling hurt or anxious. Kids might worry that their teacher’s frustration means they’re a bad kid or a bad student.
Kids with learning issues often hear feedback as criticism. For example, your child’s teacher says: “Your essay had a lot of great ideas. But it seems like you had some trouble organizing them.” Your child hears: “This essay was a mess. You’re a bad student.” Learning issues, anxiety and ADHD can also lead to real problems at school. Behaviors like forgetting to hand in homework or acting out in class can be troubling for teachers. And kids may sense their frustration.
Parents can help by taking kids’ troubles seriously and helping them build skills to manage the situation. If your child is having trouble with a teacher, listen and validate their feelings. For example, instead of saying, “ I’m sure she likes you!” try: “That’s such a hard feeling! I’m glad you told me.”
Once your child is comfortable, help them reflect on the situation. Asking gentle, guiding questions can help. For example, “How did that make you feel? “Why do you think that happened?” “Has that happened before?” Help your child understand and name their feelings. For example, if your child reports their teacher called them out in class for being loud, you could say, “I wonder if that made you feel embarrassed.” Giving kids space to talk about how they’re feeling will help you, and your child, understand more about what’s going on.
When you and your child are ready, work together to make a plan. Help your child use their self-awareness to think of solutions. For example, if your child got in trouble for talking to a friend in class you could say, “I noticed that Mr. Tan often tells you to quiet down when sit with Jayden. What could we do about that?”
Work out a script your child can use with their teacher next time there’s a problem. For example: “Drawing helps me stay focused. I know it doesn’t look like I’m paying attention, but I am.”
If your child has an ongoing issue with a teacher, reach out and ask to meet. Let the teacher know how your child is feeling. Be patient. Make sure the teacher knows that you’re there to find a solution, not just vent. Asking questions can help. For example: “What accommodations might be helpful?” “Are there any interventions we can try at home?”
Trouble with teachers is a problem as old as school itself. So when your child comes home insisting that that their teacher hates them, it’s tempting to write off their complaints.
But for kids who may already be feeling less-than-confident at school (especially those with ADHD or learning differences), teacher difficulties can be real problem. Kids may feel hurt or anxious about how their teacher treats them. Or they might read a teacher’s frustration as confirmation that they’re a bad student, or even a bad kid. But parents can help by taking kids’ teacher woes seriously, and helping them build the skills they need to manage the situation.
Take it seriously
When kids express big feelings or concerns, it’s important to take them seriously. Saying “my teacher hates me!” might sound a little over-the-top but it’s important to remember that, to your child, that feeling is very real and very upsetting. If your child mentions they’re having trouble with a teacher, they’re first and foremost asking to feel heard and understood. Instead of saying “Oh I’m sure she likes you!” try saying: “Ugh. That’s such a hard feeling! I’m glad you told me.”
Some things to consider during this conversation with your child:
- Kids with ADHD, anxiety or learning issues are more likely to hear even mild feedback as heavy criticism. For example, your child’s teacher says: “Your essay had a lot of great ideas, but it seems like you had some trouble organizing them.” Your child hears: “This essay was a mess. You’re a bad student.”
- Your child is probably (sort of) right, at least in sensing the teacher’s frustration. Teachers are only human, and working with children with mental health, learning and behavioral issues can be challenging. The problems these issues cause — missing assignments, acting out in class, not paying attention — can lead to negative feedback(“Please sit down!”) and make the child-teacher relationship feel strained. Does this mean your child’s teacher “hates” them? No. But your child might be picking up on the teacher’s reactions to their behavior and interpreting them as dislike.
Talk it through
Kids with ADHD and mental health issues often struggle with self-reflection. Understanding how our actions and habits impact us is a key skill when it comes to making positive changes. But children with learning and mental health issues often get caught up in feelings that are instant — and intense. These big feelings don’t leave much space for reflection.
And experiences that trigger those feelings — like a negative interaction with a teacher — can leave kids overwhelmed in the moment, and hurt or avoidant afterwards. That’s why even an innocent after-school question like “How was your day?” can lead to baffling blowups.
Creating a safe place for your child to share feelings and asking gentle questions can help. Once you’ve acknowledged how your child is feeling, do your best to learn a little more the situation:
- Keep questions open-ended and non-judgmental. And be conscious of your own frustrations. For example, if homework battles are a nightly issue, when your child reports that “Mrs. Messina doesn’t like me!” it might be tempting to say, “Well, do you think she might be mad because you haven’t been turning in your homework?” But questions that imply blame are likely to make kids feel more upset and less able to reflect on their experiences. Instead, try questions like:
- “How did that make you feel?
- “Why do you think that happened?”
- “Has that happened before?”
- Help kids understand and name their feelings. For example, if your child reports that their teacher called them out in class for being loud, you could say, “I wonder if that made you feel embarrassed.”
- Be patient. You probably won’t solve the problem in one conversation. Kids, especially younger ones, may need time to think things through. Let your child know that even if things are still challenging right now, you’re proud of them for reflecting on their feelings and working on finding a solution. Also, remember that kids may seem like they’ve moved on while they’re actually still thinking about their experiences and working on the problem, even if they don’t always share their thought process with you.
Giving kids space to talk about how they’re feeling will help you, and your child, understand more about what’s going on.
Make a plan
When you and your child are ready, work together to make a plan. Making sure kids feel like they’re “on the team” will give them a sense of agency and a chance to put their self-refection skills into action.
- Do some brainstorming! Help your child use their self-awareness to think of solutions. For example, if your child often gets reprimanded for talking to a friend in class you could say, “Hmm. I noticed that Mr. Tan often tells you to quiet down when you and Jayden sit together. What could we do about that?”
- Work out a script your child can use with their teacher next time there’s a problem. For example:
- “Drawing helps me stay focused. I know it doesn’t look like I’m paying attention, but I am.”
- “It made me feel embarrassed when you talked about my missing homework in front of the class. Could we talk after class?
- “I’m sorry I was being loud today.”
- “It might help me to take a few short breaks during the day when I’m having trouble sitting still.”
- Let your child take the lead, but make sure they know you’re there to help. Learning how to advocate for their needs will be a huge help to your child, both now and as they grow up.
No matter the skills they develop, kids are, well, kids. And there’s a limit to what they can and should do. Encourage your child to speak up for their needs, but be ready to step in if it seems like grown-up intervention is necessary.
If you child is having an ongoing issue with a teacher, or even if you’re just concerned or curious, reach out and ask for a meeting. When you talk to your child’s teacher, let them know how your child has been feeling. Remember that the goal is to help your child feel safe and comfortable in class, and the teacher is your partner in getting there.
And it can’t be said enough: Teachers are people. Hearing that a child feels unwelcome or upset in their classroom may make your child’s teacher feel sad, frustrated or surprised: I didn’t realize she was feeling that way! Make sure the teacher knows that you’re there to find a solution, not just vent. Some questions to ask could be:
- What accommodations might be helpful here?
- Are there any interventions we can try at home?
- How have you handled similar issues in the past? What is usually helpful for kids with similar challenges?
- What are some things we can both do to build my child’s self-esteem?
Brainstorming together will help you, your child and their teacher feel like a team, and help keep the lines of communication open going forward.