My son says he's unhappy with you anyway!" said a parent angrily as I began to describe a problem I had with her child during the day. Several thoughts ran through my mind. Maybe she was too tired for this discussion. Maybe she has other problems at home. Maybe she really believes that I'm trying to make her child unhappy!

I had to think about that. How could I know if I was causing this child's unhappiness, or if there was another reason for this parent's accusation? I decided to ask the people who would know: my coworkers and the other children.

I asked my coworkers to observe me while I worked and give me feedback on my behavior toward each child in the group. The results were generally positive. No one identified any obvious attitudes or behaviors that would generate this parent's negative impression.

Perhaps this child feels ignored in class? A review of our classroom procedures revealed that duties for the children are rotated through the whole group, and the children know the schedules. They see that everyone has a turn. I make a point to connect with, and have a positive conversation with, each child each day. This child exhibits behaviors that need my intervention, so I am especially careful to provide positive feedback for appropriate behavior.

But this parent had been so certain that her child was unhappy. There must have been some reason. I needed to ask the children in a way that would allow them to respond. I asked the following questions, and we discussed the responses as we sat in our circle:

  • "What does respect mean?" We talked about the relationship between the words like and respect.
  • How do we show respect for each other?"
  • "How do I show respect for you?"

The results were interesting and revealing. Children who had problems interacting with their peers had difficulty responding to the questions. We decided to use the following rules in our classroom:

  • Always use a respectful tone of voice.
  • Always look at the person you are talking to.
  • Take turns or find ways to play together.
  • Help your classmates when you can.

We wrote the rules out and posted them low on the wall so all the children could look at the words. We frequently came back to the "respect discussion" in order to help solve classroom problems, to prompt children to talk out their disagreements, and to encourage children to compliment one another. Our classroom began to run more smoothly.

The improved classroom environment changed the child's mood, and he was now excited to come to school. All parent problems are not that easily solved, but I was glad that I worked on this one in a way that improved my whole classroom.