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My daughter thinks her teacher hates her
Amanda Madison, Wis.
Unless I obtained absolute proof that she is misconstruing the situation, I’d go with what your daughter tells you. Chances are she has exaggerated some slight or criticism, but she may also have identified a subtle bias that could forecast a very negative year for her. You are wise to want to ask more questions, and we’ll hope that in doing so you can ferret out the truth.

As you question your daughter, try to maintain a light touch and not let it sound as though this is an earth-shaking situation: “You mentioned the other day that your teacher doesn’t like you. Can you tell me something she has said or done that makes you think that?” Perhaps in a halting way she will admit, for example, that the teacher thinks she talks too much in class. Should you get a response like that, try to resist the temptation to say, “You have a bad habit of doing that.” Instead, ask, “Has she made it clear when it is OK to talk and when you shouldn’t?”

If your question doesn’t produce an answer, add something like, “Did anything specific happen? Or is it just a feeling you have?” In all likelihood she will say that she just feels that way. Regardless of her answer, follow up with another question. Ask her if any of the other children feel the same way she does about the teacher. She may be more likely to provide a concrete example of something the teacher said to another child, in which case you have a little more information to guide further questions. Whatever is said, I would try to minimize the gravity of the teacher’s words or actions: “You know, sometimes I feel that someone doesn’t like me or is always putting me down. But then after I think about it I realize I was just too sensitive.”

If, after this low-key inquiry, you feel confident that the teacher is being too critical of your daughter—especially if your daughter has provided you with a specific example—I think you should indeed share the information you have with the teacher. If she denies having said or done what your daughter has reported (which she probably will), let her know that you trust and believe your daughter and hope that the teacher’s knowledge of your daughter’s interpretation of the situation will help to avoid such misunderstandings in the future. If she is rude or aggressive, ask for an appointment with the principal.

If your daughter continues to assert that her teacher doesn’t like her, ask her, “Can you think of anything you could do to make Ms. ________ like you more?” If she can’t think of anything, prime her with a few simple suggestions: drawing a picture for her, giving her flowers from the garden, offering to do extra pick-up, etc.

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education