Irwin Hyman, Ph.D., Reading, Writing and the Hickory Stick:
The Appalling Story of Physical and Psychological Abuse in American Schools,
Lexington Books, 1990.
Murray M. Kappelman, M.D. and Paul R. Ackerman, Ph.D., Between
Parent and School, The Dial Press/James Wade, New York, 1977.
WHY DIDN'T HE TELL ME? GOOD PARENT-CHILD
COMMUNICATION c. 1991
What do you do when you suddenly discover that a trusted
school principal, nurse or teacher has, in fact, been denying a child necessary
medication, has discouraged proper attention to early warning signs, has been
ridiculing a child for symptoms or side effects and in so many different big
and little ways has been making his life miserable at school?
Sometimes you learn about the problem as you try to analyze
the events that led up to a life-threatening emergency.In other cases you may have been
dealing with a child's problem behavior, learning difficulties, or intense
school anxiety and exploring psychological or emotional explanations in the
child's home life when the true source of the child's distress is revealed.
Since this particular problem is not the isolated incident
or the innocent mistake, but a situation that has lasted for days, weeks or
even years, parents often are deeply troubled by the question: Why didn't he
To understand why, we have to see through the child's
As children we are all taught not to "cause
trouble" or "tattle." And, children typically hold their teachers in awe,
assuming that teachers "know better" and that an uncomfortable situation
is somehow their own fault.
Child development experts point out that children are eager
to please both parents and school authorities. Not wanting to stimulate conflict or alienate anyone, they
may hide their complaints, worries or fears.
According to studies discussed in Daniel Goleman's New York
Times article, "What Do Children Fear Most," March 17, 1988, school
life and peer opinions are especially significant in shaping a child's
"An embarrassment or humiliation can be an especially
stinging blow to a child's emerging sense of worth...They may fear that they'll
never attain their dignity again." reports child psychiatrist Ann Epstein.
Asthma makes it harder. Considering a child's fear of
embarrassment, it is understandable that children generally will not call
attention to a situation that may stigmatize them. Children with asthma may be
especially vulnerable in situations that make it hard for them to avoid asthma
problems and maintain the approval of teachers or peers. It is quite common for
a child to be told: "Wait and see how bad it gets..."See if you can
get by without your medication this time."..."Go ahead and get your
medicine but don't expect us to wait for you."
Sometimes a teacher's word or a look can unintentionally
plant the idea that asthma is somehow the child's own fault or his parents'
fault. Children may not have developed the concepts or words to explain why
they feel troubled or to express the true weight of the blow to their
Common fears. Children's fear of reporting maltreatment by
teachers is quite common, according to Irwin Hyman, Ph.D., an author and
educational psychologist who specializes in physical and psychological abuse of
children in school. He emphasizes that the well-behaved and eager-to-please
compliant child in particular may be either too ashamed or afraid to tell for
fear of angering or disappointing his or her parents. Even cases of overly severe discipline may
go unreported, including excessive physical drills or "time outs" in
School Phobia? Instead
parents may sense that something is not right only when things go terribly
wrong. A cheerful child starts to
become easily upset or irritable, or the teacher reports poor performance or disruptive
behavior. Sometimes children
become afraid of going to school and won't or can't explain why. Children may develop
headaches and stomach aches or they cry and beg to stay home. It may require
considerable patience, ingenuity, reassurance and perseverance to sort out the
educational, social, emotional and medical "issues" when a child with
asthma shows signs of "school phobia."
How can parents encourage the type of communication that
provides true peace of mind and keeps little troubles from becoming big
listen and respond to children's accounts of school experiences in a
non-judgmental way.Books and
courses on parenting effectiveness and communication skills can greatly enhance
our ability to tune in to a child's emotional needs.The goal is to convey a "loving curiosity" and to
avoid sounding nosy, angry, or suspicious.
child enough time to discuss school events and concerns. Balance your inquiries about asthma
routines with questions about other daily activities. Ask the child how he or
she feels about friends, teachers, rules, homework, or upcoming trips. The
answers may offer insights into situations that can reassure you or, on the
other hand, it may tip you off to a misunderstanding or problem that can be
nipped in the bud.
teacher in a non-threatening non-blaming way to discuss your child's needs. Treat a child's perceptions with respect
but also be open to talking with the child's teacher to find out his or her
perceptions of the situation before drawing conclusions.
child does tell you about a problem, mistake or misunderstanding, try asking
her for suggestions on what would be the best way to handle it before marching
into battle. Sometimes a situation definitely calls for adult intervention.
Sometimes children want only our emotional support or our help thinking through
their options. At times a child's
insights and advice can be surprisingly astute. Children typically know the teachers, classroom dynamics, and
the system better than their parents do.
in your child's school and classroom as much as possible. The better you know the teacher, the
school and the routine, the more your child feels your support and more he can
share details, and can appreciate your knowledgeable insight. It can also build
good relationships with different staff members that can be useful when the going
The world endures solely by virtue of the breath of school children. (Talmud)