Care and Feeding

So, It Turns Out Our Kid Was Not “Crying Wolf” About Her Teacher After All

We thought she was just making stuff up, but now …

A girl looks upset and annoyed.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We live in a state where thankfully there was less pandemic disruption to in-person school than many places, but it seems like while my eighth grader was home during the pandemic she completely forgot how to be in school. She spent last year telling increasingly pushy and attention-seeking stories about things that happened at school that weren’t true. “Mrs. James yelled at me” (when in reality Mrs. James gave her a talking-to for running in the halls). “We didn’t have a teacher today and didn’t learn anything” (when the district had lunch ladies come in because there weren’t any available subs). We spent much of the year reminding her about the boy who cried wolf, and explaining that she needs to set a good example for her brothers. We thought she’d gotten the message, and this year has been much quieter—until what I discovered last week.

I had to learn from parent gossip that my daughter’s teacher slapped another student on the face for mouthing off, and that the teacher has been suspended, hopefully to be fired. When we confronted our daughter about this, asking her why she hadn’t told us, she said, “You wouldn’t have believed me.” Apparently, she told her friend’s mom, but not us. How can we convince her to tell us the important stuff but leave the attention-seeking out of it? She clearly knows the difference if she’s telling someone, but she should be telling her parents!

—Just the Facts, Ma’am

Dear Just the Facts,

Oh dear, the fact that you have made your bed, and that you’re unhappy about lying in it—thanks to framing your daughter’s not-all-that inaccurate reports as “attention-seeking” lies—is unsurprising. But you absolutely brought this on yourself. Shame on you for shaming her in the first place.

A “talking-to” for running in the halls, even if Mrs. James didn’t raise her voice, does feel like being yelled at: your complaint is a matter of semantics. “Lunch ladies” filling in for absent teachers means they didn’t have a teacher. Your daughter may be inclined to the dramatic (though to be honest she isn’t dramatizing all that much), and she seems a bit young for her age, sure, but you have repeatedly failed her by dismissing the things she’s told you, by making it clear to her that you don’t want to hear her reports of what’s happened at school, by splitting hairs over the language she uses, and by letting her know that you think she’s pushy and “seeking attention.” Why shouldn’t she want your attention? She’s your child. She deserves it.

Frankly I don’t blame her for telling a friend’s mother instead of coming to her own parents when her teacher slapped a student. She’s right: You wouldn’t have believed her (not unless you had the story confirmed by someone else). You have a lot of damage to undo here, and it begins with a heartfelt apology to your daughter and a promise never to disbelieve her, or shame her for telling you anything, ever again.

— Michelle