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While parental focus on a particular issue
usually comes up early and then gradually decreases as your child gets older,
getting along with older children and adults at school is a somewhat different
proposition. Your children who have had continuingly good relationships and
successful experiences with teachers and other children at school for several
years may suddenly develop difficulty with a particular teacher or with a
particular school-related situation. This is occasionally seen in juniors or
seniors in high school. New and somewhat novel difficulties, however, can come
up at any age.

Problems with teachers and other children at
school are your children’s problems. Social relationships and adjustments at
school are primarily the responsibility of your child.

It is not unusual to see parents get into
arguments with teachers and school administrators over the social relationship
difficulties of their children. From their point of view, the difficulties are
the school’s fault. In situations where parents and school personnel disagree
over the social behavior of children, the children are frequently left out of
the discussions. If this happens with your child, he no longer has the
responsibility for working things out. Occasionally, this same kind of
difficulty arises with neighbors. Whether the problem comes up at school or in
the neighborhood, it is clear your child has continuing responsibility for
handling the situation. You, neighbors, school administrators, and teachers may
help, but ultimately your child must deal with things himself.

When problems come up at school, regardless of
your child’s age or grade, first talk with him about the problem and encourage
him to deal with it. Usually, this works out fairly nicely and the problems are
resolved. But what if they are not? You can then either intervene more directly
or let your child know it probably is better if he simply tolerates the
situation and does nothing. your initial intervention should be mild; talk with
the teacher or administrator about the problem, listen to their point of view,
get their impressions, and be sure not to threaten or accuse. Problems may
develop which need more affirmative intervention. Then you may need to go to
the highest school official, the school board, or in some way appeal to the
community or courts for assistance. Such extremes do not develop very often,
though. The principle is to start out gradually, first talking with your child
about the problem and encouraging him to deal with it and then moving, step by
step, through the system until the problem is resolved.

There are times when teachers and school
administrators are really being unreasonable or unprofessional, and you should
not intervene, but just encourage your child to tolerate the situation; for
example, if the problem develops with only five weeks of school left. The criteria
for deciding to do nothing about a problem are not totally clear. If the
problem is not interfering with your child’s overall adjustment or learning,
and if it is fairly temporary, he probably is better off to just tolerate it.
Dealing directly with the problem may only make matters worse.

An anecdote may be helpful here. An adolescent
was on a field trip and some of the teenagers on the bus were smoking
marijuana. The school officials summarily accused everyone on the bus of
smoking marijuana and imposed disciplinary action. Some of the teenagers had it
coming and others did not. Under most circumstances, her parents might have
simply encouraged her to go along with the disciplinary action knowing it was
unfair and probably unreasonable. Fighting it would not have been worth the
hassle. In this situation, though, the youngster was an honor student and was
anticipating two scholarships to college. The marijuana situation was included
in her permanent record and could jeopardize her chances of receiving the
scholarships. This is a situation well worth fighting. Her parents first talked
with the school officials and found them inflexible. Then they hired an
attorney who contacted the school officials, indicating the parents were ready
to take the situation to court if necessary. Immediately, all reference to the
marijuana situation was removed from the girl’s records and no further mention
was made of it by the schools. Had the parents been in the habit of threatening
to sue or threatening to take the school to court over a lot of issues, the
school probably would not have capitulated so easily or quickly. These parents
had shown the good judgment to save their action for something that really

Teachers and school officials tend to respond
positively to suggestions from members of the professional community. If your
child is having some difficulty at school and if neither he nor you have been
able to effectively resolve the problem, it is well to talk with your family
doctor, someone from the local mental health service, your minister, or someone
from the family service agency. If they agree the situation needs attention,
they may be willing to contact the school.

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