“I’m not trying to pry into your life, but I need to know if something serious, a big life-changing thing, is happening because it helps me do my job,” Megaughey said, recounting the behavioral challenges she faced with a child whose parents were going through a divorce. “They were separating and didn’t tell us. The boy literally went from being a very sweet child, very loving, to not wanting anyone near him and lashing out,” she recalled. After a conference with the parents, she got the backstory on his behavior. If she’d known what was transpiring at home, she said, she’d have been better able to understand and help the child.
Revealing minor hiccups is helpful as well — like whether a child has had a spotty night of sleep — because it will help clarify why your child may be acting out and help your caregiver make decisions (like maybe a longer nap) to sooth him.
Accept constructive criticism.
“Teachers can be attuned to some difficulty a child is having. When parents are confronted with this information, often times the parents are either in denial or say that the child will simply grow out of it,” said David Raye, owner of the Goddard School in Third Lake, Ill. Since early interventions can make a big difference in social, emotional and academic growth, Raye finds it frustrating when parents shrug off suggestions.
Children fare better when teachers and parents work together to troubleshoot problems as they arise, Megaughey said. She mentioned a recent conversation she had with a father whose son is having trouble sharing: “He said, ‘Yeah, we’ve noticed it at home and thanks for bringing it up,’ ” she recalled. The two swapped tips on how to teach sharing. “Key to survival for teachers, children and parents in day care, child care and preschool is open and honest communication,” she said.
Get involved and show interest in your child’s work.
Particularly irksome to day care workers is a parent’s apathetic response to a child’s art projects or literacy milestones. “What really upsets me as a teacher is the lack of interest a lot of parents show in what their children are doing,” Arbuckle said, noting that parents often let their kid’s artwork pile up in their cubbies, or toss it in the dustbin. “Take it home, display it and then rotate it around,” she said. “It may look like a scrap of paper, but the kids are really proud of it.”
Other teachers said that they’d like to see parents participate in the classroom more. Megaughey, who reads 10 to 20 books a day out loud and has, on several occasions, ended up with laryngitis, would love parents to partake in story time. She recalled one parent who read a stack of dinosaur books (in a dinosaur costume) during dinosaur week. The kids love the novelty of a new adult in the mix and it helps forge closer bonds with parents, which builds trust, she said.
And don’t skip out on events. Dr. Canizares said that the parents who linger in the morning are often the same ones who skip out on family events or conferences to showcase their children’s accomplishments. “There are plenty of opportunities to engage and be a part of the school, and lingering isn’t one of them,” she said.
Stephanie Fairyington is an NYC-based journalist who writes on gender and sexuality.