Bullying on the playground is a disturbing reality in our school system with more and more children feeling ostracized, left-out or picked on by their peers. Seeing children work through the beginning stages of navigating social behaviors at school is part of a teacher’s day-to-day routine, especially during the early stages of development.
However, children aren’t the only ones learning to navigate appropriate social behaviors upon taking their first steps into school—their parents are, too.
When your child is preparing for their first day of preschool, you—the parent—are also preparing for your return to school. And just because you’re no longer a student, it does not mean that you will be immune to highs and lows of school social life. Just like your children, the same school-yard temptations will present themselves: gossip, cliques, disappointment and insecurity are common for students and parents, alike.
Therefore, navigating your behavior at school as a parent should be approached with intentionality and thoughtfulness if you want to have good relationships with other parents and set a good example for your children. Here are a few ground rules to consider as you go about it:
1. Understand that a young child’s behavior is not necessarily a reflection of their parent’s effort and care.
One common temptation for parents is to pinpoint a child with poor behavior and immediately place the blame on the child’s parent. This is especially common in the early school years. However, a child that is acting out or struggling emotionally or academically might have nothing to do with their parent’s efforts.
Other parents, however, tend to band together to push back against a problematic child in the classroom and by extension, their parents. The parent of this child usually begins to feel ostracized and not included within the dynamics of the school social circles.
The truth is, that parents could be doing everything in their power to help their child through a problematic time. The same parent that is frowned upon by other parents who assume they must be doing something wrong, could, in fact, be providing their child with every resource possible to help them through.
A child going through a difficult phase in their development is extremely taxing on a parent. Even more so when they also see that their child is not accepted by their peers. Instead of giving into gossip and turning your back on the parent, walk alongside them and offer them support.
2. Resist the temptation to gossip.
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This is simple in theory, but often difficult in execution—however, probably the most important thing for a parent to remember. Instead of getting swept into conversations with other parents that verge on the edge of spreading unconfirmed truths and rumors, take a firm stand to remove yourself from these circles and situations. Engaging in gossip with other parents at school is often ultimately hurtful to the children, in the end.
3. Be inclusive.
If you’re throwing a class birthday party for your child, invite the whole class and don’t leave anyone out—yes, even the kid that might not be your favorite. Inspire your child to be inclusive as much as possible and make an effort to do the same to their parents.
Instead of giving into gossip and turning your back on the parent, walk alongside them and offer them support.
4. Don’t judge other parents for having a different lifestyle.
Stay-at-home moms are often tempted to judge working moms who come dashing into school with their child just as school is starting, a pre-made Lunchable in one hand while sending an email with the other.
Working moms are often tempted to judge stay-at-home moms for their home-made, DIY lunch creations and luxurious lounge-time with other parents after school-dropoff—all while wearing Lululemon leggings and sipping Starbucks.
You don’t know the reasoning behind the life choices of other parents and what they need to do to keep their family safe and happy. Accept them for who they are and resist the urge to judge or exclude others because they are different.
5. Know that your child is looking to you for social cues and guidance.
Most importantly, remember that your child is always listening and looking to you for social cues and to help them understand their place in the world around them. Even if you think they are too young to understand your adult conversations as they sit in the back of the car, they are not too young to absorb and ultimately, emulate, what you do and say.
Treat other parents like you would hope your child would treat the other children in their class—even the ones that are more difficult to get along with. By doing that, you are providing life-lessons that will serve them more than school ever will.