Q: [School-Aged] School has gotten off to a great start for our seven-year-old, except she has a new male gym teacher and is completely freaked out! He happens to be a large man, but is kind and has a long history of being a great teacher for the school — so it’s kind of embarrassing to figure out how to deal with her being scared of him. What do we do?
A: It is difficult when our children have fears about school, but rest assured, it is also very normal – especially at the beginning of the school year. If your daughter is not used to having a male teacher, his stature, demeanor and deep voice may be especially intimidating to her. It is not uncommon for children to need a little bit of help adjusting.
- Be available to listen and acknowledge the discomfort she feels — you can tell her you understand she is a little bit fearful of her gym teacher. It is important to validate her concerns and not ignore them. Assure her that you are there for her to help her through the adjustment. On the other hand, do not let her dwell on her feelings or show her that she will get an excessive amount of attention when she shows fear. Calmly reassure her that you will work together to find a solution to her problem. Remind her that your job is to protect her and keep her from harm.
- Approach the teacher for help — he is a professional and should be willing to work with you to help calm your daughter’s fears. Ask the teacher if you can meet with him and your daughter before or after school— letting her see you interact with the teacher should give her a boost of confidence and normalize her interactions with him.
- While it is unlikely, it is possible that your child actually does have something to fear about the school environment. You certainly do not want to minimize her concerns or have her ignore her intuition. Ask if you can observe or volunteer in the classroom so that you can get a sense of how the teacher and students interact.
Most of the time, children do fine after a few weeks. But occasionally, their unhappiness indicates a more serious issue. Continue to ask calm questions about her day, listen deeply, and reflect what she tells you so she will keep talking.
Denise L. Lindsay, MA, MFTI, single mom of three daughters, educator, entrepreneur and counselor offers advice on improving the quality of your life by finding a happy balance between work, friends, family and parenting.