Parent Teacher Conferences

This is long so if you want to skip the usual angst, the question is: how do you talk to your kids about parent teacher conferences?

I wonder how many times I’ll write about meeting with RR’s teachers. I have already, at least once, and I’ve yet to feel anything but nerves about it. The same holds true for my evaluations at work. I’m usually doing the best I possibly can (and often, better than most) but I know I can always do better and I have always worked with people who were diligent about pointing out areas for improvement. It makes me queasy just thinking about it and I won’t even be in that position again until October 2014. I’m too hard on myself. I don’t want my kid to feel the same.

That said, our most recent parent teacher conference left me with a gnawing pit in my stomach. RR occasionally pushes instead of asking another child to leave her space. RR loses her concentration at the end of the day and “unravels”. RR sometimes yells “to block out the noise of the classroom”. RR did not know how to roll a mat until last week. RR is too focused. RR won’t potty train, “Is there something anatomically wrong with her?” RR sometimes answers questions with nonsense. RR doesn’t recognize when other children are sad. Or, alternatively, RR recognizes it but doesn’t appear contrite, choosing only to offer an ice pack. RR doesn’t pay attention to where other kids are on the play structure. RR doesn’t know how to say, “you hurt my feelings” and tell the other children how to make it better. RR sits with the teacher at lunch because she gets”overwhelmed sometimes”.

I wish the list of good things was longer. It starts with “RR is a little ray of sunshine” and ends with “RR is a pocketful of joy”. You guys, that’s what they say about someone for whom you have no other comment. The equivalent of “She has a great personality” or the single comment “Stay sweet!” in a yearbook. When pressed for something positive, we heard the following four things:

She has great fine motor skills. She can string beads all day!
She loves the sandpaper letters!
She can skip!
She is very focused! Sometimes she doesn’t even look up when we are talking!
She doesn’t find the transition from school to home that hard (i.e. she has good manners).

I really appreciated those, especially on the heels of all the rest. I know they are sharing what she is working on so that we can do the same at home. But, and I never thought I’d say this, I missed the chart with all of the developmental milestones the class was working on over the year and seeing her progress in a clearly defined way. Sure, it’s completely arbitrary and I didn’t always agree with it but within the current system I have no way of knowing if my child is delayed or otherwise not progressing as her peers are. And I’ll be honest, I very much care about whether or not she needs assistance and getting it for her. I also want to know what’s “just being three”. We think she’s a perfectly regular child (although is proficient and noted skipper).

A friend commented that we don’t need to be told how awesome our kid is because we already know but I that’s the thing. I don’t know. I think she is but I don’t know. And my thoughts don’t matter if what she really needs is someone to help her stop holding her ears when she hears loud noises. What I know is that we have a quiet house. We’re not yellers. We don’t have much background noise. Trucks startle me, too. I don’t cover my ears because I’m grown enough to know people would look at me oddly. She’s three. She covers her ears. What about that isn’t normal? But I don’t know. So when they say occupational therapy and, of course, everything above, I think that I don’t know anything. Nothing at all.

My own parents must have had these conversations but they never talked about it with me. I wonder how we will do it as RR gets older. I feel like she should know that we meet with her teachers, that we care about what they say, that we care about what she says about those things, and that we’re a team in getting the most out of her school experience. But what do you do with the outright negative stuff? How do you temper it and learn from it (especially when you’re me, who clearly has both problems with authority and a complex about feedback of any kind)? I want to start setting up habits now so that when she’s sixteen it’s less of a squirming, uncomfortable experience. Dinner table seems a recipe for indigestion. Car seems trapped. Where do you do this and how do you do it? And of course, I’m not telling my three year old any of the above. As far as she knows, she is awesome and doesn’t need anyone to tell her she isn’t.

18 Responses

  1. My parents, who both studied psychology as undergrads, are fond of referencing some research study showing that small children are, by an adult definition, psychopaths. I mean, what would you think of an adult who hit you until you bled, and then laughed in your face? But it’s totally normal for a three-year-old. I don’t know your kid, but if someone told me those things about compassion/ emotional awareness/ getting overwhelmed by noise/ not knowing how to roll a mat (who fucking cares?), regarding my kid, I would laugh at them. Whose children have they been teaching, robots? She’s THREE. She doesn’t want to potty-train because she’s THREE. She ‘occasionally’ (only occasionally? a miracle!) pushes other children because she’s THREE.

    Also, speaking of answering questions with nonsense, have they ever heard a politician interviewed? “Mr. Smith, what do you think of the latest Iranian negotiations?” “Well, in this great country of ours, we value liberty above all. It’s important that we prioritize that and gut the ACA.”

    As for some of the rest of it, while I recognize why these might be concerns in a classroom (though I don’t quite see why and that might not be my kind of classroom), a lot of them don’t seem abnormal to me, even in adults. I hate loud noises and malls are my idea of HELL ON EARTH. I don’t hear people when I’m focusing. At the end of a long day I want to lay down and have a tantrum too.

    The way we talk to our kids about school issues is first we decide which of the ‘issues’ are actually something we need to help our kids with versus things other people don’t like, and then we decide how we’re going to work on them with the kid (like offering alternative coping methods for loud noise other than yelling) and which are a problem for the teacher to deal with (possibly by finding some Xanax).

    (Short version: I spit in the general direction of your parent-teacher conference.)

    • Has anyone told you they loved you today? That you are kind and well-spoken and say the very things I needed to hear this morning? If they haven’t, they need to get with the program. Thank you.

      • Ditto everything Jenny said. Her teachers shouldn’t have even commented on most of that, or at least put in the comment, “Completely Developmentally Appropritate!!” With my kids, I tell them PT conferences are so, “Mommy can hear how well you are doing in school.” I share every good thing the teacher says, then choose 1 issue, maximum, to share with my boy if I think it’s something he needs to work on. If he works on that for a while and makes progress, I consider bringing up another issue, perhaps a month later.

        RR is a lovely little girl, and will learn all the social niceties by the time she’s six. For now, she is going to push sometimes, forget to use words, get overwhelmed, and unravel at the end of the day. Perfectly normal behavior for a 3-year-old. Except for that focusing thing, that is special and wonderful. I also don’t hear people when I’m focusing. My DH can’t stand loud noises, gets overwhelmed, and needs to go to a quiet room by the end of the day.

        Honestly, it’s sweet that RR offers an ice pack to a child who is hurt. That seems contrite to me.

        Please don’t stress about this. She is a normal, wonderful, bright little girl. And someday soon(ish), she is going to decide to use the potty all by herself and be trained in less than a week. (That happened with my oldest boy, at almost 3.5 yrs old.)

      • Thank you for all of your suggestions and comments – especially the one about the potty. It feels like she’s never going to figure out what it feels like when she has to go. I’m glad to know someone else got to 3.5!

      • How sweet. 🙂 Thank YOU too!

  2. You have noted on occasion that RR prefers quiet, alone time, unfortunately, school isn’t really the place for that. Maybe you can talk with her teachers and see if they can help RR get a little quiet, alone time – maybe a reading corner – or something. Yes, it’s important to learn how to interact with other kids, but not overwhelming her is also important.

    Noah’s the same way with noise, he often covers his ears. I’m sure their ears are more sensitive than ours – they haven’t listened to music much to loudly on headphones yet 🙂

    It’s hard to not compare our kids to other kids, but I’m not sure it’s helpful to do so. There will be pressure enough to conform throughout life, I’m not sure 3 is a good age for that.

    • I saw a website not too long ago that would play a tone that 50 yr olds could hear, 40, 30, 20, 10 etc. I consider myself to have good hearing but sure enough, I was right on target. So were my coworkers who are older. I have no doubt that everything is louder and more clear to a child so you’re right, some skepticism is definitely needed!

  3. First of all, all three year olds that have lived in my house also hate loud sounds. The one who is there now, tells me that the blender is TOO LOUD MAMA TOO LOUD every single morning. So, whatever.
    Second, as someone who has sat on both sides of the parent teacher conference, know that teachers are nervous, too. That might help.
    Third, one thing that I find helpful is that I try to have non threatening, casual interactions with teachers (or, when I was a teacher, parents) so that our time at the table talking about a kid seems more like team work, and less punitive. My 4th graders math/STEM teacher this year is, shall we say, not warm and fuzzy (which is fine, it isn’t his job to be), but I felt frustrated at first when I was trying to learn about my kid’s learning. Casual comments, thanks for gently pushing the child, easy questions. Last week, I had my college students in my son’s humanities class for a thing, and I saw the STEM teacher in the hall. He stopped me to talk about how he’d done on the morning’s work, noting how even his mistakes showed his thinking in the right direction.
    We share in different ways with our older child about conferences–when checking over homework, noting the things that the teacher says he needs to focus on, etc. But, our goals for our preschooler are that she learn about how school works and that she like it, that she has fun, and that she feels safe away from her family. If she’s doing things that 3 year olds do (like hate sharing, like not doing what someone else wants her to do because she’s doing what she wants to do, thank you very much, etc.), I figure they are just letting me know what they are working on with her, and say thanks.
    Um. I’m long winded.

    • All of those comments were helpful – so not long-winded at all! We’ve taken a similar approach to getting to know the teachers/having casual interactions. I admit, it’s hard. At the end of a busy day, I can barely summon the energy to talk to my wife and daughter, let alone have a productive (even socially) conversation with her teacher at pick-up. In fact, my wife handles much of pick-up and drop-off. I appreciate your perspective on an older child in this situation. Thank you!

  4. I don’t have any advice. We aren’t there yet at all. We occasionally get “Frances needs to work on picking up her toys” comments or the like, but it’s pretty basic and I’m happy for the feedback. Also my kid is now awesome at picking up toys, so thanks for the push daycare!

    I would have found that conference stressful too. I’m no child development expert, but my neighbor is 3 and I see him every day, and RR’s behavior seems pretty normal 3-year-old to me (as other folks have said above). Doesn’t mean you don’t work on things (like not pushing), but I don’t think there is a magic switch you can flip to make those things happen. They are works in progress.

    So mostly I’m just here to offer internet hugs. You guys are doing a great job and your really kid is a joy. That is not a pat “stay sweet” comment. It make me happy to see what she’s up to!

    • I’m always glad to hear “that sounds normal!” I think teachers make it their jobs not to compare kids. As Beth commented above, it’s not always helpful. That’s true – I’d probably worry more if someone told me she was behind her peers as much as I want to hear she’s ahead of her peers! Raising children is hard work and definitely a work in progress, as you say!

  5. She sounds like a normal introverted 3 year old to me. Introverts are the coolest of course

  6. Oh my! I am totally late to this party, but everyone who commented is awesome. Just reading all of this makes my day bc first there’s the post itself which is both funny and true and then there are all of the kind and truly thoughtful comments from everyone. All of you are fabulous!

  7. I am just going to echo what all your other awesome friends said and remind you that SHE’S THREE. She is still a beautiful little weirdo who gets to live her imagination out loud. If she’s still doing those things at 8, well, then, there could be some issues. But SHE’S THREE and someone (not you) is totally overthinking things. Also, they should go in time out until they understand what it’s like to be THREE.
    Rock on RR.

  8. You’ve already gotten a ton of great feedback, but I’m still going to chime in. Lucky you.

    I always ask my parents to think about this: Imagine you were stuck someplace for 9-10 hours a day. You weren’t allowed to leave, you were told what to do and when to do it, you had almost no say in how your day progressed. Think about how you would feel surrounded by 12-20 coworkers ALL day with no where to escape to. You can’t run out for lunch, you can’t take a short break outside.

    I would go insane and want to whack people too. And I probably wouldn’t feel contrite. Sometimes I feel like that now.

    But as an adult I know how to regulate. I’m 38 and still, sometimes, have trouble holding my tongue when I should.

    RR has only been on this earth for 3 years. We learn the most in our lifetime during our first 3 years. She has A LOT going on and LIVING can be overwhelming.

    She is 3 years old and sounds like a very typical 3 year old.

    No worries Mama. 🙂

  9. I hear you so much. We just got our (clearly bright) little one potty trained at one-month-before-four (phew!) and it was an epic battle of wills with me winning only because I simply refused to buy any more diapers. Took three weeks. It wasn’t pretty.
    I have an older child (19) who was a lot like RR as a child and she has never changed. She’s not bad, just quirky. But she never did care about her peers and she still doesn’t. She’s always been friends with adults and she still is. She’s always been a particularly introverted person who dislikes loud noises and large spaces with too many (read anyone not in her immediate family) people and she still does. BUT…she is very bright. She has had a great time. She graduated high school at 14 because we withdrew her from the hell that public school was for her and allowed her to just sit at home and read book after book, as she wanted to do. She’ll graduate college in June at 19. She works in a nursing home and LOVES her job in activities and has a clear career path. She has one or two friends but really…she’s still just hanging out with us and her sisters and she’s okay that way.
    This would be my big question. Do you worry about RR’s development when it’s just your little family at home? It doesn’t sound to me as if you do, but I don’t know. If you aren’t worried about her when it’s just the three of you, I wouldn’t worry at all. I would, possibly, start thinking about how to keep her in the smallest possible learning environment when she’s out of the house and I’d start reading about how amazing home schooling can be for certain kids.
    We pulled my daughter out in fourth grade. Neither of us could stay home with her…we cobbled together a system of checking in with her and having her visit with other home-schoolers. It was the best decision we could have made for her. She would be just fine at home or out and about with us…a cheerful, bright, sweet, social child…a strong and happy reader, and self-motivated learner. Then, she would go to school and fall. a. part. I went in to observe and realized that she was literally white-knuckling her way through the day, clutching at the inside of her desk and sitting there all day, tense, stressed and sad. They wouldn’t let her read on the playground. She got in trouble for ‘reading ahead’ in reading class. It was all just way too much stimulation for her. She needs a lot more alone time than the average kid.
    Once we started keeping her home she was a happy little learner all the time. Keeping her in school and having her be miserable wasn’t going to turn her into a social creature. It was just going to make her miserable forever.

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