Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Meet the High Needs Parent

Last spring I received a call from a mother looking for a preschool. It was late in the game, and her son's pre-K plans had fallen apart due to school budget cuts. After telling me this, she mentioned that I wasn't her first choice, but that she'd been referred to me by another preschool which was preferable, but full. This was all well and good, although a little tactless. Nonetheless, I began to describe my program when she interrupted me.

"She's reading" she said of her child. Great, I told her, and gave her several suggestions as to how we could  support her abilities at her level.

"She's reading books" she clarified emphatically, as if I had no idea what she'd been talking about before. When I reassured her I could still provide a rich environment for her child, she asked about my enrollment numbers (four, maximum, so the children have enough room to move and play comfortably), my tuition rates and my background. Then she asked if she could visit my facility.

I reminded her that I have a home-based preschool, and gave her my address. We set up a time for her to visit the next week. Fast forward to the day of our visit: The phone rang and an annoyed voice answered my hello. Apparently, I had given her the wrong address. This was a surprise, as I've lived here for eight years. I directed her to my porch, and once we shook hands she brusquely informed me that she hadn't much time to visit. Her once over of the preschool rooms left her overtly unimpressed. Admittedly, preschool at the end of the day is a bit less glamorous, but it's as real as it gets. Still tidy, but needing a little sweep; a couple books in the library corner were askew, but nothing glaringly bad. A few paintings were on the table drying in the sunshine and some snack dishes were soaking in the sink. To me, as a teacher, this says "When your child is here, my focus is on them. Not on dishes, or getting every crumb off the floor." As I showed her through the space, the labeled coat hooks and spaces for shoes and slippers, she asked where the spaces for the 'other children were'. Confused, I reminded her that I had just four enrolled, but she didn't need to hear from me. "You told me you had eight children here."

Really?

At this point, she and I were pretty equally disinterested in each other. While she was busy being obvious in her condescension and rejection of what I had to offer, I'd already decided I would rather go broke than deal with this parent for a whole school year. I didn't have to be rude or make excuses for what she perceived as shortcomings. I learned a lot about her in a short time: she didn't think I'd be able to meet her genius child's needs, she didn't listen well, she blamed other people for her misunderstandings and she exhibited behaviors that would have been deplorable in a child. Just unpleasant. In short, a high-needs parent.

Here's a secret I learned a long time ago as a teacher-- children are adaptable; some parents, not so much. When I was younger and worked at daycares, I spent much more time than I care to remember dealing with this sort of parent and now that I do my own enrollment, I simply don't invite High Needs parents into my life.Or, for that matter, into the lives of the other parents whose children I teach. I would rather lose money than have to cowtow, placate and generally play nanny to an overgrown child who hasn't yet figured out that the world doesn't revolve around themselves or their child.

What a makes one a High Needs Parent? Here's a simple list of their beliefs:
  1. They, and their child, has more right to happiness than anyone else.
  2. Their child deserves to have a special snack if they "don't like" the kid-friendly snack I'm already offering. (I'm not talking about accommodating allergies, either. I'm talking about the kid who now, today, doesn't like yogurt, so since he's off yogurt, I should make up something else for him so he won't 'go hungry'.)
  3. They will use guilt to passive-aggressively get me to do what they want. (See above.)
  4. They bring their child late to school regularly, disrupting our group with long, dramatic goodbyes.
  5. They want to tell me all about their child's horrible night and hard morning (usually all this in front of the child) so that if the child is acting out, I'll know why.
  6. When their child acts out, "they don't really mean it. They're just playing". Always.
  7. They expect me to get more teacher training to deal with their special, perfect child's moods and behaviors. Or they bring me a book to read so I can 'understand' their kid.
  8. They get upset and want to know the name of the child that bit/hurt their child and want to know what I did to punish them. If their child bites, they are teething or having a bad day or stressed out.
  9. If their child isn't invited to a birthday party, they make it my problem instead of the other parent's. (Never mind that they've usually completely alienated the other parents.)
  10. When I approach them about their child's hurting other children, they turn it back on me with some silly condemnation  for unrelated inanities like "not playing reggae music like the last teacher, who he had no problem with". ( I actually had a parent tell me this during a conference!)
  11. Their child doesn't need to adapt to the schedule and daily rhythms of the group; we teachers instead must take extra time and "work with" their child who has been given carte blanche to not listen to their teachers or other children.
  12. They feel compelled to tell me things about their personal life I'd never, ever want to know.
  13. They want me to appear in court to testify against their ex during the custody hearing. (Awkward. And yes, this has happened too.)
I think you get the picture. As a teacher, I am mindful of the abilities of the children in my group. When we have children with actual special needs, we do our best to bring those children lovingly into the group. When we have children in our group who are going through troubles at home, we factor that into how we interact with the child and understand that stressed children do act out. But when parents are unwilling to take any responsibility for helping their child to become a better person, or refuse to understand there's a reason people pay extra to hire a nanny to cater to their Little Prince or Princess, well, then we've got problems.

The biggest problem of all, of course, is that the child is done a disservice. All this drama and blame-shifting leads to nothing other than raising a spoiled brat. Because the parent is so enchanted with themselves and their superiority, or is too busy polishing their child's halo and keeping the blinders on, it makes teachers lives a lot harder. When parents can't separate their own self-image and needs from those of their child, everyone loses.

If you are dealing with someone like this, good luck. I have no lofty advice here, other than Know Who/What You Are Dealing With, and communicate clearly. Use the techniques I suggested in How to Deal With a Whiny Youngster, because their memory might be longer, but they sure as hell won't back down on the drama unless you ignore it. Be polite, and don't feel like you need to befriend them...unless you yourself are a Drama Queen. Then hey--you have fun with that. But don't say I didn't warn you.

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