Diplomacy and Determination – When I had a conflict with my son’s school, I was able to get what my family needed by being both respectful and strong.

I am a young mother of two children, ages 8 and 3. Shortly after giving birth to my son, I had to return to work to provide for my family. My son was in several daycare centers starting when he was 6 weeks old. I checked them all out carefully and, in all of them, my son was almost always happy when I picked him up. I felt secure.

My worries started when I moved him to a daycare that was close to our home. It was also the center my daughter had attended, so I knew they had a good preschool curriculum. But to my surprise, the teachers for his age didn’t have enough control and my son kept getting hurt.

Too Many Incidents

From the beginning, I was alarmed when I’d come to pick up my son. The kids were screaming and running around.

Then my son started telling me daily about different kids hitting him. At the start of the second week, he came home with a scratch on his face. Later in the week, he came home with a second scratch on his face.

The staff said they’d keep my son and another child apart. But during the third week, I received a message while I was at work with a picture showing a bump on my son’s forehead. The teacher said it was from playing with another child. I was furious.

My colleagues suggested that I speak with the school director, but I was reluctant to. In the past, I’d sometimes felt like older individuals looked down on me because I was a young mom. Plus, I’d been in foster care as a child, so I expected to be judged and not listened to. A part of me wanted to curse the staff out and tell them about themselves. Another part of me didn’t want to speak to anyone. I picked up my son that evening and quickly left.

The Last Straw

But when I buckled my son in his car seat, he told me that a child had bitten him hard. When I said, “Huh?” he put his hand in my face and said, “He bit me.” When I looked at my baby’s hand, he had teeth engraved in his skin.

I needed to go home and breathe. I needed to speak to my son’s dad. I needed advice. I called a colleague. She again suggested that I send a polite but direct email requesting a meeting with the director. But I wanted to talk to the staff first. So the next morning I asked them about the bump. They said they thought it was from playing, but they couldn’t explain how it happened.

I also questioned them about the bite on my son’s hand. They told me they were sorry and would keep a better eye on my son. But I wasn’t satisfied. There’d been four incidents in seven days! I felt hopeless and angry.

I thought of a time when a foster parent had told me that I wasn’t allowed to sit on the couch because it was only for their children, not foster children. I felt like I always felt as a child in the system: that no one cared. I felt like no one was there to support me or my child.

Time to Act

But I also wanted to grow from being that foster child to a successful parenting adult. So that night I decided to email the director. My email went something like this:

“Good evening. I am requesting a meeting with you to address a few concerns that I have regarding my son. There have been four incidents in less than seven days. I am disturbed by some of the incidents that occurred recently. I am also concerned about my son’s safety and would like to prevent any future incidents. Please let me know your availability, possibly next week.”

Her first response was to ask if I wanted to meet with the mother of one of the children. But I thought the real problem was that the whole class wasn’t in control. I told her that I thought that might just cause more conflict. She agreed, and we set up a time to meet.

I Gave and Got Respect

Before the meeting, I actually put on a suit! I wanted to make sure that I was presentable because I wanted to be heard and not judged. During the meeting, I was surprised that the director listened carefully and wrote down information about each incident.

I was also surprised when she informed me that she would be switching some of the teachers to different classes. She said that certain staff might not be strong enough to enforce the rules, which was my exact thought since day one. I really loved it when she told me that the teacher that she would be putting in my son’s class was the same teacher that my daughter had had, who I knew was a strong-minded, confident teacher. I knew my son would do well with her.

Not once did I have to raise my voice. Not once did I feel unheard.

Through the experience, I learned that as parents we must always advocate for our children. We shouldn’t feel pressured to keep quiet about our concerns. I also learned that I had to deal with my own fears and insecurities in order to advocate effectively for my child, and that it’s more effective to advocate with strength and calm. What worried me the most was thinking that the director wouldn’t care to meet, and that I would have to be loud to make her listen. But in fact, she agreed with me.

Please Listen

Of course it doesn’t always work out so well. I think school officials need to understand that as parents, we are leaving our children whom we love unconditionally with complete strangers. School officials need to understand how important it is to respond to parents’ concerns for their children’s safety and well-being.

And schools should understand that a parent who is lashing out may be distressed. This doesn’t mean that we’re not good parents. It may just mean that we need understanding.

At the end of our meeting, the director of my son’s school assured me that her staff would take a refresher training on working with parents. I was happy that she was listening.