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We ask a clinical psychologist if it's ever OK to meddle with your kid's class selection.

Class lists – who your child will be with, and the teacher they will have for the following year, are a popular topic of conversation at this time of the year, as term four is well and truly underway and these decisions are being made.

The decision of class allocation is usually made by the school; often the teachers and other staff who have taught your child this year, and the teachers from the following year level – who will teach them the next year – will decide your child’s classmates and who will be their primary teacher.

For some kids (and some parents) this can be an anxiety fuelled process. The idea of change can make many children feel uncomfortable, the knowledge that they will not have their best friends and the teacher they have grown familiar with can create a sense of insecurity, worry, or anxiety. For some parents, the loss of control about the environment their child will spend the majority of their time in can also create the same feelings within them, especially if they have strong feelings about their potential teacher or classmates.

So, the question is, as a parent do you interfere with the usual process of class selection? Do you request a particular teacher or other students for your child to be with (or not to be with) the following year?

Dr Judith Locke, a clinical psychologist, former teacher and author of parenting book, The Bonsai Child, says a firm no. Class placements should be made by the school and not influenced by parents.

“There is an emphasis on making children happy, where immediate feelings are prioritised over long time gain,” Dr Locke says.

She argues that parents will often try and solve a child’s worry about change by stepping in and asking for a ‘solution’ to the issue, in this case by requesting their child be put in the class with a particular person or with a specific teacher. She says though that this isn’t the solution to the problem, because it’s the feeling of worry or anxiety about change that is the real problem. This is what needs to be looked at and worked on in its own right; requesting particular people or conditions will not help solve the real issue, she argues.

Dr Locke actually believes trying to make kids happy, by controlling particular situations or environments like school classes, can actually do more harm than good.

“When parents constantly make things immediately better, by allowing their child to get out of situations they are a little unsure of, then the child will start to believe they truly can’t cope with challenge, because their parent’s actions reinforce this belief. Inadvertently, over time, the child’s anxiety, bossiness, or poor behaviour will increase,” she says.

“Don’t cater to everything [children] want. You can’t dictate terms forever, you need to look deeper,” Dr Locke says.

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This idea of need versus want is really important in Dr Locke’s perspective. Children want to be with their friends and they want a particular teacher, but they don’t need it. Catering to their wants to solve their feeling of insecurity or anxiety about class changes won’t actually solve the problem she argues, but it can create an even bigger problem in the long term.

“Inadvertent catering to all that your children ‘want’ can make them ‘need’ it,” she says.

In relation to class choices, this can mean that if parents request particular friends or teachers for their child to be with, their child will end up unable to cope when they are eventually without this particular friend or teacher.

“The main issue is that when you allow someone to always dictate the terms then you don’t teach them that they can cope when things aren’t exactly the way they want. This action reinforces a child’s faulty belief that they need to be in charge, or experience particular outcomes, to be able to cope,” she explains.

“Schools have good reasons for putting children in particular classes and parents need to support this,” she adds.

Dr Locke believes that this applies to the majority of children, with very few exceptions. “Although my advice is directed to the majority I still like to ask the question to parents of children who believe their kids are ‘different’ – at what point will you let them experience the real world? If not now, when?”

Dr Locke believes that the best way for all children to learn about the real world, and to be adequately prepared for it, is by learning that change is inevitable and to be able to handle this change. She identifies flexibility, working in groups, and working with a range of people as essential skills for their future and believes these skills are learnt through the process of class transitions. Learning to work with a range of people with different personalities equip them better for their future so learning this from a young age undoubtedly assists with this, she says.

If your child is worried by the process of changing class, Dr Locke believes speaking with them, listening to them, and providing your own examples of how you coped with change in your own life are great ways to help support your child through the process. Trying to influence it by particular requests are not.

Dr Judith Locke is a clinical psychologist, former teacher, and the author of the parenting book, The Bonsai Child, which details practical strategies to help you build confidence and capability in your child, which is available at bonsaichild.com. She also delivers talks to parents and teachers at schools around Australia.

Have you ever interfered with your child’s class selection? Would you? Tell us in a comment below.

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