“I did something really bad today,” my five-year-old told me through tears at school pick-up last year. “I can’t tell you what it was. I don’t want you to be angry with me.” Luna, my eldest, was shaking with sadness, but it didn’t seem wise to push her beyond her comfort at that moment. My partner and I knew that she’d been adjusting to the transition from preschool to kindergarten. We knew she was struggling with a tough teacher. We knew she didn’t feel like Mrs. V liked her very much. We also knew that if anything truly horrible had happened—if she’d hurt another child or upset a member of staff, for example—the school would have undoubtedly notified us.
So, we let her take the reins, making sure she knew we’d be ready to listen when she was ready to open up. We promised that there was nothing she could have possibly done to diminish our love and care for her. Then we waited. For months, Luna would occasionally tell us she was feeling sad about this mysterious thing she had done, but she continued to feel too ashamed to tell us the story.
This went on until a terrible nightmare woke her up one evening, perhaps six or eight months after the initial upset. She dreamed that her Papa and I had died and was so shaken by the images in her head that she came into our bedroom at 2 a.m. to tell us her secret at long last. “I drew on the blocks at school,” Luna confessed through mournful sobs. “Mrs. V told me I was a big problem. She even took the blocks home to wash them, but the marker didn’t come off.”
When your child is struggling at school, and in particular with a tricky educator who just doesn’t seem to get them, the impulse to pull them out of the class is undoubtedly strong.
At this point, my partner and I could’ve knit a tapestry of our mixed emotions. There was relief—you mean that’s it? That’s all she did. There was the flood of love for our kid, who cares so deeply about doing right by those around her. Then there was the anger. Luna had only just started kindergarten when the incident occurred, having previously attended a fully play-based preschool.
Did no one gently explain to her that she wasn’t meant to draw on toys at big school? How could her teacher call her “a problem” for an innocent mistake? How could a teacher ever call a child “a problem?” What language was used that could’ve made my daughter internalize so much shame and develop such debilitating anxiety for such an extended period of time?
In my mind, there was a before-blocks and after-blocks Luna. The former had always been delighted to go into school, was effortlessly social and looked forward to each new day. The latter was nervous, subdued at drop-off and frequently overcome by the fear of doing things incorrectly. I was fuming.
When your child is struggling at school, and in particular with a tricky educator who just doesn’t seem to get them, the impulse to pull them out of the class is undoubtedly strong. As parents and carers, learning that someone has harmed our children typically activates a fight response within us. My initial instinct was to take Luna out of the class, if not the school, and let her start a new chapter. What I learned, however, is that sometimes sticking with the thing that feels really difficult is the best course of action.
According to Nikki Hurst, OTD, OTRL, the principal therapist and therapeutic content lead at Moxie by Embodied, Inc. (a robotic AI friend that supports childrens' emotional, cognitive, and social development), there are pros and cons to transferring your child out of such a class. “A new teacher may be more successful with the child and better suited to meet their needs,” she tells Motherly. “A fresh start could [also] allow the child to have less anxiety and become more motivated to attend school again.”
However, there’s “no guarantee that the child will not have the same difficulty in a new classroom, the transition could be difficult for them, [they] will have to make new friends, learn new structures and routines, and may feel anxiety over fitting into the new environment, which could impact academic progress,” she adds.
Plus, being able to cope with stress and work alongside individuals with whom we don’t necessarily gel is arguably a fundamental aspect of life — and equipping your child to deal with such circumstances could actually be an enormous gift. “It is important for children to learn perseverance and how to cope with difficult situations,” Hurst agrees. “It helps with achieving progress towards our goals and with learning how to manage and regulate our emotions.”
If your parenting gut is telling you that perseverance might be the way, Hurst suggests first “meeting directly with the teacher to discuss what has been occurring and see if the teacher has any insights. A plan should be discussed to help alleviate some of the problems.”
We should also be conversing honestly with our children, and seeking to “understand where their anxiety is coming from. Are there any steps that can be taken by the child? Have a discussion about any rules in particular that are causing an issue. These may be things that can be worked on at home.”
If the meeting had gone differently, perhaps we would have considered moving Luna to a different class.
In my daughter’s case, this is exactly what we did. The first step was setting up a meeting with Mrs. V and allowing Luna to join us. When we found ourselves sitting with this teacher, whose words had caused Luna so much pain and shame, we expected to be met with defensiveness. We assumed she’d trivialize the incident and blame the stress of looking after so many children. What we found instead was accountability.
Luna spoke bravely and honestly about how she had been feeling, and Mrs. V admitted that she had no idea. She apologized for losing her temper over something that could’ve been solved by a chat and asked Luna if there was anything she could do to make things feel better in class. Although Mrs. V didn’t remember calling Luna “a problem,” and instead mused that she probably called the situation “a problem,” she did take immediate action in removing the blocks from the classroom so that Luna wasn’t constantly reminded of a traumatic day.
The meeting could have gone any number of ways, of course, but I am so grateful that my daughter got to experience an adult in a position of authority taking accountability and apologizing for hurting her. It was a beautiful lesson—and a reminder that even grown-ups make mistakes (because we all do), but that the most important thing is to own up to those mistakes and try to do better. I still struggle to justify Mrs. V’s actions. Whatever was or wasn’t said, she reacted in a way that distressed my kid for over half of an entire academic year. Still, I value her ability to recognize the harm and her desire to alleviate harm in any way possible.
If the meeting had gone differently, perhaps we would have considered moving Luna to a different class. As Hurst explains, the most important thing to consider is a child’s mental health.
“If conversations have been had with the teacher, and they are unwilling to work on improving the situation for the child, or if steps have been taken to improve the situation and the child is in the same amount of anxiety and distress, it might be time to switch classrooms,” she says. “Not every teacher or classroom is the right fit for every child. Our children’s mental health should be top priority, and most educators will recognize this and work with families to improve the situation. If that is not the case, it is best to place the child in a more supportive environment.”
Lucky for my family, that first meeting went better than anything I could’ve imagined and it didn’t take long for Luna to bounce back to her “usual” self as I remembered it. Her anxiety decreased, her joy increased, and drop-offs returned to their baseline level of sleep-deprived and tardiness-induced stress. She got happier, and so did we. At the end of the day, raising happy children is the priority, and I don’t doubt that we would’ve done whatever it took to see Luna’s joy bounce back.