When it comes to knowing about your child's fear of certain kinds of dogs or whether she is particularly susceptible to a throat infection, Mom and Dad know best. But other behavioral and health-related issues often manifest themselves in school -- issues classroom teachers may understand better than anyone. After all, think of the time children spend in their care.
Seven or eight hours a day is a sizeable chunk of time for another set of eyes to observe children in a wide range of activities. And, unlike families who usually have only one child of a given age, teachers are experts on all students of that age. Behaviors that may seem merely annoying at home may send up red flags at school. In the case of a seasoned professional, the child is also "seen" in relation to a caseload of thousands of predecessors.
When does a teacher know best?
At home, the child who picks on a little sister may be seen as merely indulging in sibling rivalry. In the classroom, however, the child who cannot respect the possessions of others, who asserts himself physically, who lacks the skills to communicate his needs, and who may even feel that he is the "victim." stands out as a child in need of help. This child may feel especially vulnerable because of a change at home (illness, a new sibling, a recent move, bickering), may be intimidated by a situation in the classroom, or could be experiencing anxiety.
"When I was notified about my child's bullying and fighting, it took a conscious effort to stay calm and keep an open mind" recalls one father. "But I figured the teacher wouldn't take the time to communicate concern without sound reason." Contrast this with the parent who brushes off what the teacher is saying on the grounds of a "personality conflict" or some other defensive position. Can that really help the child? Excessive shyness, an inability to make friends, or unfounded fears may be other characteristics observed by the teacher that should be shared with parents.
As students climb the ladder to the middle school years, other behaviors, even more serious in implication, may be apparent. Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, may also come to the teacher's attention. Students with these disorders often spend excessive time in the bathroom, and their behavior may cause concern among their classmates, who can confide in a trusted teacher or counselor. Many schools educate students about these unhealthy behaviors, and teachers and students often know more about them than parents. If you suspect that your child has an unhealthy relationship with food, don't overlook that valuable ally -- ask the teacher.
Other all-too-familiar school habits include smoking pot or cigarettes, drinking, "huffing", or sniffing glue. If you're suspicious that your son or daughter is flirting with dangerous behaviors, it is important to seek help at the school. Habits that may be controlling a child's life often become apparent in a school setting, away from the parent's observation.
Meet the Teacher Halfway
What's the best way to find out if a child is manifesting any behavior that you should be aware of? Ask!
Teachers can be reluctant to notify a parent if they are only suspicious and have little real evidence, other than a hunch. But parents can tap into these informed guesses by asking teachers if they have noticed anything troubling or unusual. When it comes to protecting young people from harm, teachers can be the best friends parents have.