Where should my child go to school?

This is a common questions parents ask who’ve recently had their child evaluated at our practice.  In fact, help with school placement is often one of the reasons that children are brought in for evaluations in the first place.  Let me say first that the psychologists and the neuropsychologists at The Stixrud Group and the educational consultants from Stixrud Educational Consulting do not have a preference for private school or public school. We believe that both systems have their place and making the right choice is a very individualized decision, because of the myriad of factors that impact ultimately what the best option might be for an individual student.  Last week I discussed that a critical component in school selection is locating a school where your child’s teacher can be a non-anxious presence in the classroom.  This week I want to discuss what I think it means to be a non-anxious presence and why I think this is such a critical concept.

The notion of a non-anxious presence was identified by Edwin H.  Friedman, PhD in his book A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.  A working definition of non-anxious presence is someone who can be honest and expansive without causing undue fear.  This kind of emotional approach can be expressed from a micro-perspective, (e.g. individual relationships) as well as from a macro-perspective, (e.g. how the teacher thinks about the class and the school).  You may be reading this and wondering “how can I as a parent possibly have any impact or input on my child’s classroom teacher with respect to her emotional approach?” (i.e. the non-anxious presence feature) .  I contend that, as a parent, you actually have a fair amount of influence over this.  To affect the anxiety level your child experiences in the classroom, and one of the most valuable things you can do for your child’s experience in class, is to become a non-anxious presence in your child’s teachers life. One of the techniques that I employ in this type of circumstance is to actively try to place myself in the other teacher’s shoes and to actually try to imagine their perspective, so that I can have a deeper appreciation of their reality.  Almost always with this kind of role play, I am able to develop an insight and a viewpoint that is more empathetic.  When I am more empathetic, I am less reactive and then I am less reactive I am less fearful.

Back to the teacher and my child. As a parent, I saw my relationship with my child’s teacher as shifting from that of a silent partner to an active team player, depending on the need of the situation.  I believe that if the teacher saw me as a supportive partner, he/she was less fearful of me and thus was able to see my child in a different light.    It was clearly the teacher’s classroom…he/she was in charge but I was her willing and active accomplice.  My perception was that for the given school year, this individual was now an integral and valued member of our family.  With that in mind, I always wrote a “welcome to my child” letter at the beginning of each school year, describing what I considered to be some of the salient features of our family life that would help them understand our family and thus my child. I was sure to include any relevant medical information because I do not believe that secrets promote healthy communication.  This was the first step to becoming integrated into my child’s education in a way that was unobtrusive and proactive, without causing an increase in anxiety. 

 The discussion continues next week, so please tune in.