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Addressing Parental Concerns About Students with Emotional Impairments

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Having a child with emotional impairments can challenge and provoke anxiety in parents. This lesson offers ideas for how you can address parental concerns and form a collaborative approach to working with these students.

Thinking About Parental Concerns

For the last five years, Maggie has been teaching in a self-contained special education classroom for students with emotional impairments. These are students whose diagnoses, such as schizophrenia or obsessive-compulsive disorder, involve struggles with emotional regulation and expression. Some of her students have mental illness, exhibit extreme aggression, or have cognitive challenges that severely impair their emotional regulation.

Though Maggie feels confident about her work in the classroom, this year she has noticed that her students' parents are especially anxious and needy. Maggie is starting to think about the experience of these parents and what she can do to better address their concerns about their children. After all, Maggie knows that helping parents is, by extension, helping children, so she starts to learn more about what she can do for them.

Guilt and Responsibility

Maggie frequently talks to parents who seem to feel guilt, responsibility and defensiveness. Time and time again, parents have told Maggie that they worry that their children's impairments are their fault directly. Society sometimes sends this message, and when parents feel intense guilt, it can prevent them from relating to and interacting with their child.

Maggie tries to keep her conversations with parents focused on the present. She tells parents that their collaborative job is to address the issues their students are facing right now, rather than worry unduly about why they have these problems.

At the same time, Maggie directs parents toward research-based materials that will help them understand the true etiology of their children's impairments. When parents feel very guilty, she also encourages them to seek emotional support for themselves or meet with support groups that include other parents of children with similar struggles.

Managing Home Life

The parents in Maggie's class are also often concerned because their home lives are so challenging. Maggie understands that parenting a child with emotional impairments is really difficult. Many of her students have frequent tantrums and might be aggressive toward their siblings or parents. It can be hard to do activities as a family or even just to get through daily routines.

Maggie runs frequent workshops for the parents in her class addressing basic home life issues. For instance, she asks the guidance counselor to run a workshop about sleep and emotional impairments. The school nurse and a local nutritionist come to help Maggie lead a parent workshop about mealtimes.

Maggie is careful to show parents that they are not alone in their struggles, and to talk through their daily routines with them to try to find workable solutions to the domestic stressors they face.

Worries About the Future

Another common struggle for parents in Maggie's class has to do with worrying about their children's future. Many of these parents wonder if their children will ever be able to function independently or form fulfilling relationships with others.

Maggie is careful to help parents understand that they are not alone with these worries. Whenever possible, she connects them with parents of previous students so that they can talk about what the next educational step holds. She also keeps a list of community resources parents can tap into to learn about what experiences are available for their children.

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