“I was terrible in math. Johnny takes after me.”
“My older daughter does her homework without any problem. I don’t know what happened to Annie.”
As a teacher, I would cringe at statements like these made by parents at school conferences-I heard them over and over again. 90 percent of the time, the student who apparently didn’t measure up was sitting right next to the parent, hanging her head.
Billy Isn’t Smart
I have never forgotten a lesson taught to me by one of my college professors. He acted out a scene as if he were a young boy, Billy, who was learning to read. At the onset, around his neck was a sign that read, “I’m a smart kid. I can learn.” Billy was happy and motivated. He started his week excited, but he was met with a series of subtle negative comments from his parents, friends and teachers. Why had he done it that way? What was he thinking? By the end of the week, Billy was slumped over, walking slowly, and the sign around his neck now read, “I am stupid. I can’t learn.” Along the same line, if you tell your son he isn’t good in a certain subject area because he “takes after you,” he will buy into that belief. His hope will disappear and he’ll give up quickly.
Parents, Don’t Make Comparisons
One child should not be paraded in front of the other at a conference. Concentrate solely on the child at hand. Resist the temptation to squeeze in a little bragging about other children. Trust me…the teacher will not think less of you because your son is having difficulty in math. She will appreciate that you see his strengths and are anxious to work with them. Concentrate on methods that have worked in the past. Is he visual, auditory, tactile? Talk about the effort he’s exerting. Listen carefully to suggestions the teacher might have to strengthen weak areas.
Teachers, Intervene When Necessary
A student could go through her entire life facing unwitting criticism from parents who don’t realize the damage they’re doing. Act as the child’s ally. When I sent home information about parent conferences, I made sure to include a section on the topic of sibling comparisons. Sometimes a light just needs to go on. If, at the conference, the conversation still turns negative, redirect it back to Johnny by saying something positive. It’s okay to ask a student to leave the room for a few minutes while you have a discussion with the parent-without being insulting or accusatory-about how this kind of talk ultimately sabotages the situation.
Another Point to Ponder: Hopefully, as a teacher, you’re not making comparisons in class either. “I had your sister last year in class. She was really smart.” This puts a child in an awkward position from day one.
Critical Comments Hurt Both Children
Sibling comparison is no picnic for the child who is being put on a pedestal either. She begins to feel the pressure of needing to be perfect. She feels sorry for her sibling and is embarrassed by the high praise. When parents or teachers contrast siblings, they pit them against one another, and it often results in resentment. Above all else, we all need to remember that children are individuals and should be treated as such.
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