Angry parents – kids love making stuff up, but sadly, some folks will believe anything
Children are known to tell the odd fib, or embellish a story, but when it leads to a complaint email, it's a headache
From a young age, children tell us stories of how they wish the world was rather than how it is.
How did your drink get knocked over?
“Teddy did it.”
Why is Teddy outside?
“I don’t know.” (Yes, they do. They threw him out the sodding window).
As teachers, we understand the importance of listening to children and having their voices heard. This is how we safeguard their health and wellbeing, and it helps us to make school the best environment it can be for them to aid in their learning.
But we also need to interpret what children tell us versus what they mean. Which is sometimes lost on parents when they email in with concerns or complaints after tears at bedtime (and maybe a glass of wine or three).
Often, it comes down to interpretation. A parent will say: “My child says your maths lesson was too hard today and they are upset!” You think: yes, they did find maths hard, because they weren’t paying attention, due to a falling out with a friend at break time.
They were projecting their sadness at one event into their view of my lesson. Or you’ll hear the dreaded: “You told my child off in front of the class when he didn’t do anything.” Likely referring to: the entire class has been spoken to about their behaviour and no one child was singled out, but your little darling was one of the worst and I’m glad they paid attention for once.
Kids might even leave parts of a story out, or not fully explain it due to embarrassment. This leads to emails like: “My child is being bullied by Madeline – please deal with this immediately.”
Well, if they hadn’t kept telling Maddy that she was ugly then maybe Maddy wouldn’t have given them a taste of their own medicine. Maddy is a gentle and perceptive girl who looked into the soul of your child and found what makes them a cruel bully. And then Maddy made your child aware of their own fears by asking them why they can’t just be nice to someone for once in their life and then maybe someone might want to be their friend. If only you could actually say that!
I bet we’ve all heard: “My child did poorly in their spelling test – please put them in a different group.” Your child is in the right group, but was too embarrassed to tell me that they lost the list of words and did not come and collect a new one from the pile that has sat at the front of the classroom for the last week.
There are also times when children can be rather more selective with their interpretations of events: “My child was made to miss their playtime today and I have absolutely no idea why. PLEASE EXPLAIN!!!”
Your child kept SHOUTING out. They were told to stop. They didn’t. They were given a warning. THEY STILL KEPT SHOUTING. They were given a consequence as per the school’s behaviour policy, which was writing a reflection on why their shouting out was disrupting the learning of others. Which they did in several paragraphs.
And then there are the allegations that schools are duty-bound to spend hours of their time investigating, even if the incident in question would have needed a TARDIS or Elder Wand to make it possible: the complaint about the member of staff shouting at a child when said teacher is off sick with laryngitis. The TA who removed a child from a lesson they were not in, nor even in the same building.
There is another side to investigating impossible events, too: the distress of your professional judgement being called into question, or your livelihood being threatened due to a series of fictitious events.
This can colour your view towards that child or family: should I tell that child off for fear of them lying again? Will I be dragged into another investigation for applying the school’s behaviour policy correctly? Then there are the sleepless nights, and the imagined meetings with parents where you can tell them what a lying little so-and-so their child is.
Finally, the sad realisation that perhaps we live in a ‘post-truth’ world where parents don’t want to listen to teachers – they just want to bolster their opinion of how wonderful their cherished little darling is. Maybe it’s time for a glass of wine or three.
The writer is a primary teacher in England.