Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Parent/Teacher Conferences

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 19, 2010

     This time of year has come; the time when parents report to me what teachers report to them. Tricia and Tom, the parents of their fifth grade student, eleven-year old Amy. The previous five years of parent/teacher conferences have been an endless barrage of negativity. She has poor focus. She has no friends. Her reading comprehension is below grade level. She cries in class and disturbs the other children. Tricia and Tom have remained calm through this barrage, asking gently, “what can we do?” Together, Tricia and Tom, took the teachers seriously. Amy received educational therapy, social skills training, individual psychotherapy, psychotropic medication and mindfulness training for children. This year, the parent/teacher conference was “boring”. Amy is doing really well. Her academics are at grade level. She has nice friends. She is happy and cheerful, almost every day. We will never know what helped Amy go from struggling academically and socially, to blossoming into a happy, healthy and successful child. Not knowing the key ingredient to Amy’s progress, even with such a positive trajectory, is strenuous. There is one thing that is clear to me; Tricia and Tom deserve a lot of credit. They were not narcissistically injured by Amy’s weaknesses. They took the emotional aspect out of it and they tried to help Amy with what they thought would be constructive interventions. In other words, they did not seem to feel shame or fear by Amy’s developmental lags; they just wanted to help her.

11 Responses to “Parent/Teacher Conferences”

  1. Shelly said

    Hmmmm. So that is what professionals consider success stories? That the parents, “were not narcissistically injured by Amy’s weaknesses?” That parents just do what it takes without investing any emotion in the process? Normal parents feel hurt when their children hurt. I would consider Tricia and Tom mentally ill: that they cannot empathize with their daughter’s pain. There is something inherently wrong with parents when they cannot feel when their children are suffering. Now I can see from the therapist and school’s point of view: just do what it takes and don’t make our lives difficult with your feelings. Hmmmmm.

    • I think this was not a clear post. Every parent goes through their own personal process when they discover that the teachers are recommending more interventions to help the child get up to speed. Here, I am admiring Tom and Tricia’s practical approach to Amy’s issues. I am not saying that parents who feel fear or shame hurt their child; but I am saying that the parents issues can sometimes interfere with the child’s progress. Yes, some parents hurt for their children, but other parents hurt for themselves. Of course, most parents do a little of both. I am also trying to say that when it comes right down to it, there are so many interventions that Amy needed, and as such, it makes it hard to say which ones contributed to her success. As I often say, this is a messy field. It would feel better if we could say cause and effect, but most often, we can’t. It is not that we don’t want our lives to be difficult. We just want to separate out the child’s issues from the parent’s issues and there is an art to that. Thank you, as always, for your comments.

  2. Suzi said

    They turned her into another social clone. Poor kid.

    • Shirah said

      Wow. I think I missed the boat on this post. No, they did not turn her into a social clone. She found happiness. Granted, it may have been time and maturation, but whatever it was, her life is substantially improved. She FEELS much better. I don’t mean to argue with success, I just find it puzzling how it happened. I am not sure I could have predicted it.

      • Suzi said

        It happened by training her to fit in.

        Being Amy didn’t fit anyone’s idea of what a healthy person looked like. She’s happier to pretend simply because she seems to fit in now. Even you see that as a success.

        But where did our lovely free thinking Amy go and how will she manage when she finds her self pretending to be yet another socially acceptible ‘created’ being. She will fight to find her true self one day.

        I hope she’ll be ok when she gets sick of playing the game – the ‘this is how we behave socially acceptable’ games.

        This post has angered me beyond my understanding. I thank you for it. Cheers!

  3. Kristin said

    I very much appreciated and understood your post. Tricia and Tom sound like wonderful, caring parents to me. They were concerned about their daughter’s problems, but didn’t allow themselves to become embroiled in the external competitive pressure that many parents fall prey to. I know many, many parents who view their children as extensions of themselves. These parents feel glorified when their children succeed and shamed when their children “fail,” that is, fail to meet their parents’ expectations. In other words, many parents objectify their children, signaling to their children that their value resides in their ability to enhance the parents’ status. Tricia and Tom, by contrast, seem genuinely concerned with Amy’s happiness, and their calmness in the face of Amy’s setbacks indicate to me that they love her for who she is, not how she will ultimately reflect on them.

    In addition, it sounds like Amy has achieved a well-rounded sort of success, academically and socially. The key for me was your observation that she blossomed into a “happy, healthy and successful child” with “nice friends.” What more could any well-adjusted parent want for their child?

    I have one question — is Amy herself able to articulate what caused the change? Perhaps it was a teacher who focused on the positive instead of the negative? Some kids blossom with a little bit of positive reinforcement from the outside world. Four years of negativity from teachers would be hard for anyone to bear, let alone a child.

    • Kristin said

      P.S. One thing that makes me a little bit sad about this story is that it is a story of the affluent. Is this sort of miracle within the reach of the average or poor family? What do parents do when they can’t afford “educational therapy, social skills training, individual psychotherapy, psychotropic medication and mindfulness training”? The fact that this sort of multi-pronged approach is out of reach for all but the most affluent in our society makes your quest for understanding the “key ingredient” to success all the more important.

      • Shelly said

        Yes, some parents do see their kids as extensions of themselves and if their kids fail, the parents feel themselves failing. However, other parents’ hurt stems from the hurt that the child is going through: they are empathizing for the child. Therefore, if the school wishes for the parents not to react and want not to deal with the parents’ emotions because it is easier for them, that is considered a success story. That seems strange to me.

      • Shirah Vollmer said

        Kristin,
        Thanks for your comments. No, Amy cannot identify the agent or agents of change. Yes, money helps, but it was more the determination of the parents that so impessed me.

        Shelly,
        Yes, some parents use their children as extensions of themselves, whereas others have empathy for the suffering of their children. I did not mean to say that Tom and Tricia did not have empathy for Amy, only to say that in the absence of shame about her disabilities, they were able to plow ahead and get her a number of services. Some parents have too much shame to do this. I do not mean to say parents should be like robots. I wanted to emphasize that it is healthy for Amy that there is a separation between Amy’s issues and Amy’s worth to them.
        I can see this post generated discussion; partly because my points were not so clear. I will keep trying.

  4. Ashley said

    Great post and a wonderful inspiration to me as someone who is going to have a son in six months.

    I think most parents naturally hurt when they see and feel their children suffering. What I understood and appreciated about the blog was that the parents didn’t seem to take their daughter’s struggles personally as proof they failed as parents thus making the situation even worse. (i can only imagine that this is not easy to do) The pure fact that they sought help from varried sources shows they took her issues seriously and obviously felt for her deeply. They simply made that delicate journey without going down the rabbit hole of making it all about themselves. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Yes, that is the point of my blog and I am glad that you summarized it so nicely. I think this post has been a bit problematic though, because as you say, it is a delicate balance between helping your child versus assuming that your child is a reflection of your own strengths and weaknesses, and in so doing, causing feelings of shame which stop the parent from proceeding to get the appropriate interventions. All parents walk this fine line and all parents fall in both directions from time to time.

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