children

"But it will confuse the children!"

When marginalized people exist unapologetically in public, some bigoted people say things like “But it will confuse the children!"

This is about as ridiculous as saying “Don’t pour water there! It will get the fish wet!”

Most of the world is confusing to children, because they haven’t had time to learn very much about it yet. Kids have to learn even really basic things. Some examples of stuff kids aren’t born knowing and often find confusing:

  • Door open *and* close.
  • Light switches can turn lights on and off.
  • Some things belong to you and some things do not.
  • Not everything that looks appealing is edible.
  • When you’re in public places, you have to wear clothes.
  • Some people are relatives and some people aren’t.
  • Everyone has a name.
  • People like different things.
  • Holidays exist.
  • Not everyone celebrates the same holidays.
  • It is possible to read books.
  • If you let go of a ballon outdoors, it will almost always float away.
  • Even when you are very upset, it is possible to communicate without screaming or hitting anyone.

You’re not going to break children by existing in public as a marginalized person. Even if they are confused, nothing terrible will happen. Children are good at thinking about things they don’t understand and learning new things. Kids are confused a lot; that’s part of being a kid. They are learning, and it’s ok.

Image description: "Telling marginalized people "your identity will confuse the children" makes about as much sense as saying "that water will get the fish wet". between two photographs of fish.

Image description: "Telling marginalized people "your identity will confuse the children" makes about as much sense as saying "that water will get the fish wet". between two photographs of fish.

You may be saying that about your student’s parent

Content note: This post is mostly intended for k-12 classroom teachers, but probably applies to other groups as well.

When you teach, it’s really important to be mindful of the fact that people from all walks of life have children. 

When you say something about a particular group of people, you may be saying it about a student’s mother, father, or parent. It’s important to keep that in mind when making decisions about how to discuss things. (Including things that it’s 100% your job to teach your class about).


When you express an opinion about a group of people, your student may hear it as “I think this about your mother”, “I think this about your father”, or “I think this about you and your family.” Don’t forget that, and don’t assume that you will always know who is in the room.

It’s worth speaking with the assumption that there are people in the room who know a member of the group you’re talking about personally. When you’re working with kids, it’s worth speaking with the assumption that this person might be their parent or someone in a parental role.

This is important whether what you’re saying is positive, negative, or neutral. If you speak in a way that assumes that what you’re saying is theoretical for everyone, it can make it very hard for a child to whom it is personal to trust you. And you can’t assume that you will always know a child’s family situation, or that you will always know how a child feels about it.

For instance:


  • Many parents are in prison, have been imprisoned in the past, are facing trial, are on probation, have been arrested, have been accused of crimes, have been convicted, are on house arrest, are facing some other kind of court-ordered punishment or similar.
  • Many parents are police officers, prison guards, judges, prosecutors, probation officers, or in a related role.
  • Many parents (and children) have been the victims of violent crimes. (Including crimes committed by police officers.) Some children may have lost parents this way.
  • All of these people are parents, and most of their children go to school.
  • Some of their kids may be in your class, and you may not know this.
  • Even if you do know about the situation, you probably don’t know how they feel about it.
  • Kids have all kinds of feelings about all of these things (including, often, complicated mixed feelings).
  • If you want to talk about prison issues, crime, justice, legal reform, or any of that, it’s important to keep in mind that whatever you say about one of these groups of people, you may be saying it about a student’s parent.
  • And that you don’t know how they feel. 
  • Speak in a way that gives them space to have opinions, and to be both personally affected and part of the class.
  • If you say “we” and mean “people who aren’t personally connected to this issue”, kids are likely to feel that you are distancing yourself from them and their parents.
  • It’s better to speak with the assumption that what you’re saying applies to the parents of one of your students, and that they may have complicated thoughts and feelings about this.

Similarly:

  • People of all races have children of all races. When you say something about a racial group, you may be saying it about a student’s parent.
  • People with all kinds of disabilities have children. When you say things about disabled people or disabilities, you may be saying it about a student’s parent.
  • (Including blind people, deaf people, autistic people, people with intellectual disabilities, wheelchair users, people with conditions that usually shorten lifespan, and every other kind of disability).
  • When you talk about teenage pregnancy, keep in mind that some students may have parents who were teenagers when they were born.
  • People of all political opinions, including abhorrent opinions, have children. When you say something about members of a political group, you may be saying it about a student’s parent.
  • People who work at McDonalds have children. When you talk about McDonalds workers and people in similar roles, it’s extremely likely that you’re talking about a student’s parent. (Especially if you teach in a public school).
  • Many people who do sex work have children. If you say something about strippers, porn stars, escorts, phone sex operators, dominatrixes, or whoever else, you may be saying it about someone’s mother, father, or parent.
  • People of all faiths and ethnicities have children (who may or may not be raised in their faith). If you say something about a religion or its followers, you may be saying it about the parent of one of your students.
  • And so on.

Being more abstract again:

  • People from all walks of life have kids, and you may be teaching some of their kids.
  • Keep that in mind.
  • Whatever you say about a group of people, you may be saying it about your student’s mother, father, or parent.
  • If you speak about it like it’s an abstract issue that couldn’t apply to anyone in the room, it’s likely to be really alienating.
  • This is true even if what you say is positive or sympathetic.
  • Kids need to be seen and acknowledged. If you speak as though they’re not there, it gets harder for them to trust you.
  • When you speak about a group of people, speak with the assumption that at least one student in the room has a parent who is a member of that group.

(To be clear: I’m not saying don’t talk about these issues. Sometimes it’s 100% your job to talk about these issues. What I am saying is, keep in mind that it may be personal, that you may be talking about a student’s parent, and that you won’t always know that this is the case. Taking this into account makes it possible to teach everyone in the room.)

tl;dr When you’re teaching, keep in mind that the kids in your class probably have parents, and that you don’t know everything about their parents. Their parents may come from any and every walk of life. Keep this in mind when you talk about issues and groups. You may well be talking about a student’s mother, father, family, or parent. 

How disabled kids learn to be suspicious of optimistic teachers

This happens a lot in school:

  • A disabled kid goes to school.
  • A teacher is initially friendly and optimistic.
  • The teacher expects that their teaching will make the kid’s disability irrelevant.
  • Eventually it becomes clear that the kid’s disability is going to stay important.
  • Then the teacher gets frustrated, gives up, or stops being nice.
  • Sometimes this is overt and sometimes it’s subtle; it’s always hurtful.

A lot of kids go through this over and over during childhood. And, it often persists into adulthood and becomes a lifelong thing. It hurts. It does damage. And it means that people with disabilities are often suspicious of immediate kindly optimistic affect, and may take a long time to trust that you won’t reject them for being disabled.

If you’re teaching, be careful not to come in with the expectation that your teaching will erase disability or render it irrelevant. It won’t. Instead, start with the expectation that disability will matter and that you will be teaching students with disabilities. Disability acceptance is a key emotional skill for effective teaching. If you think around disability, it’s nearly impossible to apply any creativity to accommodating it. If you’re willing to face disability head on, it’s often possible to find good ways to adapt teaching so that a student can learn.

Relieving childcare pressure without watching kids

said to :

There’s a problem in my family: my cousin and his wife are in quite a tight spot (little kid, both work full-time, even overtime sometimes, not a lot of money), and receive little to no support from my cousin’s parents.

As my mum (his aunt) was always really close to him, we often help them instead, both with money and babysitting (esp during the holidays). I’d like to help them as well, but I’m rubbish with kids (she’s four and very hyperactive). Is there another way for me to support them?

realsocialskills said:

Probably.

I don’t know them, so it is hard for me to say what they need help with.

The best way to find out might be to ask them, possibly by saying something like: “I’m not comfortable watching children, but I’d really like to find other ways to support you. Is there another way I could be helpful?”

That said, asking an open-ended question might not make it possible for them to tell you what they did. Open ended questions don’t tell them much about what you are and aren’t ok with. If you don’t know what someone is likely to feel comfortable helping with, it can be really hard to ask for help.

So it might be better to offer something specific.

You may be able to help with childcare needs indirectly:

  • People who have young kids and no childcare have to take their kids with them to a lot of places
  • That makes a lot of errands take longer
  • It also makes them more draining for both the parent and child
  • Eg: Parents who have no childcare have to bring their kids to the grocery store
  • At best, this means that grocery shopping takes longer because they have to supervise their kid and shop at the same time
  • And they have to bring their kid even if their kid is too tired to tolerate it well
  • Then the kid is miserable, and the parent has to deal with caring for a miserable (and probably uncooperative) kid in a public place while judgmental strangers stare at them
  • And it’s likely that both parent and child will be upset even after the errand is over
  • And it can interfere with sleep and make the next day difficult as well
  • If you can do some of their grocery shopping for them, that can relieve childcare pressure without you having to watch any kids

Some other things that might help to relieve childcare pressure:

  • Picking up their mail
  • Picking up their prescriptions when they or their child is sick
  • Dropping off things that they need transported
  • Being at their house for the plumber/cable company/etc so that they don’t have to take off work (which means they have more time off available to deal with child-related things)
  • Household tasks that are difficult to accomplish with children who need close supervision (eg: mowing the lawn if they’ve got one)

Autistic kids need to be able to talk about disability

Disabled kids need to be able to talk about disability. Difference isn’t a good enough word. Everyone’s different from everyone else in some way. Not everyone has a disability. People who have disabilities need to be able to talk about that, both in general and specific terms.

I’m writing this partly in response to comments I’ve seen on several good posts that have been circulating recently on why it’s important to tell autistic kids they’re autistic.

I’ve seen some parent responses that seem superficially positive, which actually miss the point:

  • “Yes, we told him about that. We told him it’s the thing that makes his brain different, and that it’s why he’s so smart.” or
  • “We told her that autism means she’s awesome!”
  • “We told him he just thinks a little differently.”

That’s not good enough, because it doesn’t address autism as a disability. Knowing the word “autism” only goes so far. Kids also need to be able to talk about disability in a nuanced way, without glossing over things.

Kids will know that there are difficult and painful aspects of being disabled whether or not you talk about it. You can’t protect children from that knowledge by refusing to talk about it; you just end up sending the message that they’re on their own in dealing with it.

Here are some other things autistic kids need to know, beyond the word autism (not an exhaustive list by any means):

The basic version:

  • Autism is a disability
  • It’s one of the reasons some things are really hard for you
  • It also comes with strengths
  • You’re not going to grow out of it. You *are* going to grow up.
  • You can do things that matter.
  • There are other kids and adults like you, and we’re going to help you meet some of them
  • Some people are prejudiced against people like you. It’s ok to be upset about this.
  • Some things are going to be different for you than they are for most other kids, in ways that might not be predictable.
  • It’s ok to have questions
  • It’s ok to feel however you feel about all of this
  • Your parents and other supportive adults are here for you, and will help you figure things out and get help when you need it

Some other, more complicated (and also not exhaustive) information:

And any number of other things.

Disability is complicated. Disability is something we spend our whole lives dealing with, and that we never stop learning about. This is not something you can cover with your child in one conversation When you talk to your kids about being disabled, it’s really important to let it be complicated, and to be honest about it being a long-term conversation. It’s important that they know that you can handle talking about it, and that it’s ok for them to have questions, feelings, and to need help figuring things out.

tl;dr Telling your autistic kid that they are autistic isn’t enough. You also have to talk to them about disability.

Doing right by victims of bullying

Hello! I’m in my first year of teaching and I have a couple of students who are being bullied verbally everyday by a group of older boys. Of course, I’ve been working on putting an end to it, but instead of helping my bullied students, the boys have just added me and another new teacher to their list of targets. They are not my students so I can’t directly punish them and their own teacher wouldn’t do anything about it. And their parents are busy rich people who couldn’t be bothered. Any advice?

There’s a book you need to read. The Are Word by Dave Hingsbuger is an amazing practical guide to helping victims of bullying. It’s short, easy to read, and has practical techniques that actually help people. (He wrote it for those who work with people with intellectual disabilities, but what he says is broadly applicable to everyone.)

Some things I think it’s important to acknowledge about this kind of situation (and this is part of what Dave Hingsburger discusses in his book):

  • You might not be powerful enough to make the bullies stop
  • The victims are almost certainly not powerful enough to make the victims stop
  • There are a lot of things you can do for your students, whether or not you can stop the bullies
  • Your students need you, and it’s important to be there for them

Be careful about your ego:

  • You probably want to see yourself as someone who stops bullying
  • Most teachers decent enough to care about vulnerable kids feel that way
  • This can lead to some bad consequences when there are bad things going on that you can’t stop
  • Sometimes teachers who want to believe that they are solving bullying end up talking themselves out of acknowledging bullying when they can’t fix it
  • Or worse, sometimes they convince themselves that teaching victims social skills or other responses will fix bullying
  • That ends up hurting victims really badly, and making them feel like it’s their fault and/or that no adults care very much about what’s happening to them.
  • Don’t do that to their students
  • Acknowledge what’s happening to your students, even when it hurts to admit to yourself that something bad is happening that neither you nor they can fix

Even when you are not powerful enough to control the behavior of bullies, there are a lot of other things you can and should do to help your students. I’ve written before about things adults can often do to help victims of bullying.

tl;dr: Teachers can’t always stop bullying; they can always do things that are at least somewhat helpful to victims of bullying. One of the most important things you can do is to be honest with yourself and your students about the situation. _The Are Word_ by Dave Hingsburger is an incredibly helpful book for anyone who wants to support victims of bullying.

Liking things is never age-inappropriate

People get to like things. It’s ok to like whatever you like.

Even if it’s a show for little kids

Or toys. Or kids’ art supplies. Or picture books. Or YA novels.

When people like things, they’re being people who like things, not being age-inappropriate.

It’s wrong to invade spaces that are intended for young children, or to attempt to get children to accept you as a peer. That’s a boundary violation. Age matters when you’re interacting with others, and some things are genuinely wrong for adults to do.

But liking the thing is never the problem. It’s always ok to like things. Adulthood happens when you reach the age of adulthood. It is not something you have to earn by turning away from awesome things you like.

Honesty

When you’re teaching vulnerable kids social skills, it’s important to tell the truth.

They need skills for living in the world as it is, not as you would like it to be.

For instance: If you teach them to walk away from bullies, you have to tell them that sometimes bullies will follow them.

If you teach them to tell an adult, you have to teach them that sometimes the adult won’t care, or will take the bully’s side, or will tell them to stop tattling.

If you teach them to say “That hurts my feelings!”, you have to teach them that some bullies will laugh at them.

If you don’t teach kids that, when those things happen, they will think it is their fault. Or they will think that you don’t care. Either way, they’re not likely to be able to come to you for further support.

It’s much better to admit that your answers are imperfect. It’s much better to admit when you don’t know how to help. It’s much better if you can listen.

Sometimes the best thing you can say is “I’m sorry that people are being so mean to you. Do you want to talk about it?" 

ischemgeek:

realsocialskills:

this ask is about bullying and being an adult who kids ask for help:
i know from experience that it’s important not to teach bullied kids that the way to defend themselves is to mentally place themselves as superior to the bullies,…

ischemgeek said:

I’ve had success with expressing casual disapproval of kids engaging in bullying-prelude behavior (like if they’re gossiping about another behind their back, that sort of thing) and with swiftly and strictly scolding/otherwise punishing for bullying behavior (like laughing at/making fun of another kid, stealing another kid’s stuff, etc), and praising for respecting others’ boundaries (if the kid is new and has issues with recognizing boundaries - after a while it just becomes an expected-standard-of-behavior thing) and/or putting a stop to bullying behaviors (“Hey, I saw you stop [kid] from bugging [other kid]. That was nice of you. Good job.”)

The most important thing is to be consistent with it. Kids I volunteer with know they can joke with each other about stuff, but the moment it crosses into actually insulting each other or the moment a kid’s establishment of a boundary is not respected, I will scold or make them sit out until they’re willing to be respectful of others, depending on how much they’ve pushed it. Full stop. No exceptions. It’s to the point that the kids who’ve been there longer will now put a stop to bullying situations before I even have to step in (“No, leave [kid] alone, they said they don’t like that. Let’s do [other thing] instead!”). I tell kids that I don’t ask them to like or be friends with everyone, but I do demand that they treat each other with respect and consideration.

And especially, especially lead by example. If you don’t want kids you watch over/teach to bully, don’t be a bully. If you want kids to view you as a safe grownup to come to about these things, don’t be a bully. Don’t make fun of the kids you’re working with. Don’t ignore their boundaries. Ask if you can borrow stuff. Don’t embarrass them on purpose in public. Don’t use humiliation or public embarrassment as a punishment (there’s a big difference between “Stop that or you’ll have to sit out until you can be safe.” and “Hey, everyone, [kid] thinks it’s a good idea to do [bad thing]! [Kid] can do [punishment] now while we all watch and thank them for the delay they’ve caused us. Good job, [kid].” The first is discipline, the second is humiliation). Ask before you touch them if you need to touch them for something (e.g. “Do you want me to put the band-aid on or do you want to do it?”). Keep jokes friendly, and don’t be afraid to apologize if you hurt feelings by mistake. Act the standard you want the kids to rise to. Kids model the adults they’re around - if they see grownups treating everyone with respect and consideration, they will tend to follow suit. By contrast, if they see grownups tease and bully, they’ll think that behavior is okay.

As well, take any complaints of bullying seriously and make good on your promises. My default response is along the lines of, “I’m sorry that I didn’t notice that at the time. I’ll keep a close eye out for it later, and I’ll pair you with [different kid] instead next class, okay?” And then I follow through with that. If I say I’m going to do something, I do it. When I was a bullied kid, the adults who refused to do anything were frustrating, but worse were the adults who promised to do something and then never followed through. Making good on your promises is really important for maintaining the trust of the bullied kid. I won’t punish a kid for something I didn’t see unless there’s compelling evidence (because I know from being on the wrong end of it that a system like that could be too easily exploited by the bullies), but I will follow through with any action I’ve promised - pairing kids with different partners, making sure the bully doesn’t get the victim alone during class time, and keeping a closer eye on the kid who complained so that I can take action right away if the bully tries anything the next class being the most common promises I make.

Finally, accept that no system is perfect. No matter how hard you work at keeping your enviornment considerate and respectful, bullying will happen, and you have to address it when it does. you can affect the severity and frequency of it, but it’ll still happen sometimes. Do not fall into the trap of thinking, “My class/school/club/etc doesn’t have a bullying problem! We’re respectful!” Doesn’t work that way. All denial does is make an environment where bullying can thrive as long as it stays out of your sight. I admit I’m more prone to that thought process than I’d like, and I know better - I was bullied terribly at a school that refused to do anything because “We don’t have a bullying problem here!”

kyraneko:

realsocialskills:

angelrat:

Nonviolent Communication can hurt people

foxship:

agent-hardass:

realsocialskills:

People who struggle interpersonally, who seem unhappy, or who get into a lot of conflicts are often advised to adopt the approach of Nonviolent Communication.

This is often not a good idea. Nonviolent Communication is an approach…

angelrat said:

It’s also not much help if you’re being bullied. It’s like the “stop it, I don’t like it” technique that children are advised to use … the obvious response from the bully is “good, objective attained, I’ll do that again now I know you don’t like it”. I have never seen the sense in “stop it, I don’t like it” as the entire point of the bullying behaviour is to do something the other person does not like.

realsocialskills said:

Yes, exactly. I’ve been trying to write some posts for ages about why it’s wrong to teach kids strategies like that. It’s - it’s not ok to make yourself feel better about the world by teaching vulnerable people things you wish were true. They need to know how things actually work so that they can protect themselves rather than walking into greater danger.

kyraneko said:

Thank you. Openly and honestly telling kids that bullies exist and the official authorities are rarely much good at stopping them (and sometimes are bullies themselves), and then teaching them how bullies function, and then letting the kids use their own understanding of their situations to decide what to do, would work so much better than all these adultsplaining how-to’s that pretend bullies are an occasional bother with no official support that are only bullying you because you haven’t really communicated to them that it’s hurtful to you …

You make kids stronger and more resiliant to bullying by telling them that they matter with actions as well as words. You teach them that they deserve better than to be bullied by interfering with the bullying of them that you witness, and believing them about the bullying you don’t witness, and giving them whatever tools they need to defend themselves when you’re not around to do it for them.

Authorities often refrain from interfering with bullying because “they’ve got to learn to defend themselves,” but no one tells an airplane that since it has wings, it doesn’t need a runway because “you’ve got to learn to fly on your own.” And it only gets worse when they engage in such distortion of reality to make dealing with bullies sound like such an easy thing. The victim goes out with the wrong information, fails, and then gets chided for hir lack of success at such an “easy” task, while the authority figure goes on blissfully believing the world is that simple and that the problem will be fixed once her wayward charge “gets it” and makes the bully stop by “standing up for hirself” in the approved nonviolent fashion, which will totally work once it gets around to happening. No hurry.

Fuck that. Get the kid an understanding of how bullies work and how the rest of the world works, sparing no illusion about teachers who make excuses to let bullies bully or punish their victims instead, and then let the kid decide what’s the best course of action to take.

I teach children and I don’t have much experience. Do you have any thoughts for how to interact with twins and make them feel respected as individuals? I can tell the girls in my class apart by their hair, but I sometimes mess up and blurt out the wrong name, and I can tell it hurts them. Any advice would be appreciated.

realsocialskills said:

That’s a really good question, and not something I have direct experience with.

I have a couple of guesses:

  • I wonder if it might help to make a bulletin board where all of the kids in your class could put a picture of themselves and something about their interests?
  • It seems to me that having something like that in the room might be a good reminder that you know that they are different people who like different things
  • What if you had *all* of the kids wear name tags? (I don’t know how logistically feasible that is, but I wish they would have done that in my school because I never once managed to learn the names of all the other kids in my class).
  • I think it’s important to apologize when you call them the wrong names, and not to get defensive about it if they'e angry or hurt. 

Beyond that, I’m not sure what to suggest

Do any of y'all have experience being a twin or teaching twins?

About family trees: isn’t it exactly the fact that people’s families are so different that makes such a project interesting in the first place? This might depend on the teacher - but if a teacher introduced the assignment by briefly talking about different kinds of families and gave specific suggestions about how people could draw in two sets of parents, deceased relatives etc., would you feel differently about this?
realsocialskills:
I think it would still be a really bad idea and that the reasons I described in my original post still apply.
No matter how a teacher frames this, it’s a really sensitive subject.
It’s great if teachers are sending the message that there are a lot of different kinds of families. They should send that message, and one way to do that is to assign books that show lots of different kinds of families and cultures.
It’s not good to use students as object lessons, though. Particularly if they’re dealing with something painful or socially stigmatized. 
For instance:
  • A kid who’s been in foster care since they were three and doesn’t know who their parents are shouldn’t have to decide between lying and announcing that to their whole class.
  • A kid whose mother just died might not want to talk about that.
  • A kid who has two fathers might be afraid to tell other students that, particularly if many of them are members of a faith that stigmatizes homosexuality
  • A kid who doesn’t have ready words to describe their family situation might not feel comfortable discussing this with you. They shouldn’t have to choose between lying and having a scary conversation about something personal.

Getting real about physical accessibility

Something I’ve noticed:

There are a lot of ramps, seating areas, lifts, and other such things that aren’t available to wheelchair users because they are constantly full of people pushing children in strollers.

Sometimes, this is because people are astonishingly inconsiderate, but often it’s the result of terrible design.

People assume that accessibility features are only useful for chair users. Then they design them to only have enough capacity for the (small) number of chair users they expect to be there. Then, everyone with a stroller uses them, and the building remains almost as inaccessible to wheelchair users as it was before.

When you are creating an accessibility feature, do not fall into this trap! Design it to have the capacity for all of the things it will be used for.

Some concrete examples:

  • If your building has multiple high-traffic entrances, it needs to have multiple ramps
  • Elevators need to have enough capacity to accommodate the number of kids in strollers, chair users, and people with luggage who will come through on a regular basis.
  • Family restrooms should be accessible. So should some of the stalls in the regular men’s/women’s/unisex bathrooms.

Just, generally speaking, keep in mind that in order to make an access feature usable, there has to either be enough to go around, or enforcement preventing unauthorized use. Unless you want to chase mothers and infants away from your ramp, make it big enough to accommodate traffic from both wheelchair users and strollers.

A school project not to assign

reinventweather:

seatentsina:

realsocialskills:

If you are a teacher, do not ask your students to make a family tree as a school assignment. *Especially* do not do this as a class art project to be posted on the wall.

A lot of kids have very complicated families, and complicated feelings about which words to use for which people.

For instance: Some kids call multiple people “mom”. Sometimes this is because they’re being raised by a lesbian couple. Sometimes this is because they are adopted and also maintaining a relationship with their mother who gave birth to them. Sometimes this is because their parents divorced and remarried and they also see their stepparents as parents. None of these relationships map easily onto a family tree project.

Some kids don’t have any parents at all. This isn’t something that they should have to tell their peers if they don’t want to. 

Some kids aren’t sure who their parents are. Is it the people who adopted them when they were a baby and disrupted when they were six? The person who gave birth to them? The people they’re living with now? The one nice staff in their group home? The person they’re in foster care with who they’re hoping will eventually adopt them? It’s complicated and not ok to ask kids to declare this in writing in front of everyone.

There are any number of emotionally fraught and complicated situations that go along with describing families. It’s not good to have kids do that as part of an assignment, unless you’re working in a context in which getting people to do emotionally fraught things is appropriate.

seatentsina said:

lol I remember having to do a project like this for Hebrew School, idek remember why. but it was super awkward and uncomfortable and embarrassing to come in with a lopsided, half-blank tree. 

reinventweather said:

my friend (who teaches the sixth grade) just had the ‘bring a parent to school’ day EXCEPT it was ‘bring your vip to school’ and it was parents and siblings and aunts and neighbors and pastors and EVERYONE.

what a great idea.

slashmarks:

[tw: abuse]

If you are a teacher, never make interviewing a family member a part of an assignment.

“Interview an adult” or “Interview a person who fits this description” is probably okay, but many people do not have families, and many people who do have terrible families. Forcing someone to spend extended time with a family member may be contravening their usual strategies for avoiding violence. If they live on their own, you may be trying to force an escaped abuse victim to recontact their abusers.

Not everyone is able to approach you for an alternative — abuse often comes with fear in social situations and problems interacting with people. They also don’t know that you are going to be willing to give you an alternative; you could potentially refuse, be abusive to them yourself, report the abuse (possibly because you’re legally mandated to) and cause serious problems in their lives that way, cause a runaway minor to end up in juvenile detention or just returned to abusive guardians, or even contact their parents and tell them the student is telling lives about them.

In addition to abuse, I’ve seen examples of things like “interview two/three family members.” An only child raised by a single parent may not HAVE two family members to interview. Disclosing your family structure and/or parent’s family abandonment should not be necessary for your grades.

It’s fairly simple to come up with an alternative. If you want them to talk to adults: “Interview [number] of adults about their experiences… Parents, teachers, librarians, and family friends are examples of people who you could interview.” If you want them to talk to people close to them: “Interview [number] of people whom you have close relationships with about… Family, good friends, and romantic partners* are examples of people who you could interview.” (That said, ‘people you’re close to’ runs the risk of being exclusionary to people who have trouble forming relationships so be careful with this one.)

This is true for any age of student, kindergarten through university, though I suspect it comes up slightly less often in university.

*Obviously this one’s only going to be middle or high school and up, but yes, your students may have romantic partners and may be very close to them.