How to Make It Through an Event in Your Child's Classroom Unscathed

Dear parent, please join us for The Multiplication Tower of Imagination, a celebration of poetry, math, and wood shop hosted by class 3-112 this Thursday at 1:00. It would mean so much to us if you could attend.

You’ve gotten this letter, right? Or one just like it, anyway. And your kid is jumping up and down waving the letter in your face, frantically entreating you to come because he’s worked so hard on his wooden equals sign and accompanying poem Ode to a Product, and can you please, please, please, take off work and be there?

Well, regardless of your feelings on math, wood shop, and poetry (or whatever the topic happens to be), these events are a part of school. So here are a few tips for getting through them unscathed.

1. Show up if you can.

Let me begin by saying I am well aware that, sometimes, it’s completely impossible to attend these events. They pretty much always happen during the school day which, by necessity, is also the work day and, while some people may have the flexibility to take time off in the middle of the day to attend a school event, some don’t.

But, if you can possibly swing it, show up. Yes, you’ve already been to two story shares, three math demonstrations, and a social studies skit this year, and a recital of violin compositions written by your child and his kindergarten classmates sounds remarkably similar to a nightmare you had the other night from which you awoke clutching your chest and sweating, but it doesn’t matter.

If you can, you have to go. Even if violin is not your child’s favorite subject, and even if he’s told you it’s fine if you don’t show up. Because the truth is, when he realizes he’s the only kid there without someone in the audience, he’s going to wish you were there. And as much as you don’t want to imagine it, his friends will look at him with pity, their parents will look at him with pity, and he’ll probably meet you at the classroom door in tears. So go, if you can.

Next Page: What to do if you can’t.

2. Make arrangements if you can’t.

If you absolutely can’t go, there are still things you can do to help your child feel supported. Perhaps there is another trusted adult who could go in your place. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends, nannies, anyone who is available and cares about your child. But make sure it’s someone your child would be happy to see. If his weird uncle Leopold is technically available but will spend the whole recital talking loudly into his cell phone about the care and grooming of his prized pet turtle, it’s best not to invite him.

If there’s no one you can think of, check in with the teacher. It’s possible she can help you find someone in the school who could stop by as your child’s guest. Specialist teachers, custodians, or administrative staff often have more flexible schedules and might welcome the change of scene. But again, make sure it’s someone your child likes and feels comfortable with.

If no one at all is available, prepare your child by letting him know that you won’t be there but that you’re really excited to hear his violin composition (or whatever it is) at home later that day. Also, make sure the teacher knows in advance that you won’t be there so she can plan how to handle it if the event includes time for each child to spend with their parent. You don’t want your kid to be the only one standing alone while his classmates get lots of attention from their parents.

3. Act like you would at any other performance.

Your child and his teacher have probably spent an enormous amount of time preparing what, to you, seems like an unintelligible recitation of mind-numbing poetry (“The dog, so fluffy, so fluffy and brown, he is mine”) and are very proud (and nervous) to be presenting it to you.

This is not the time to check your cell phone, or whisper to the mother next to you about how cute Susie’s hair looks with that big pink bow in it, or to laugh behind your hand at someone else’s child who forgot to zip his fly.

It’s also important to maintain an air of wrapt attention (whether you feel it or not) even when it’s not your child who is presenting. Trying to get your chid’s attention by waving frantically, or attempting to make him laugh by sticking out your tongue and crossing your eyes may win you points with your kid (though it also may not), but it’s not fair to the other children and their parents and it’s likely to get your kid in trouble with the teacher who will reprimand him for giggling during the performance.

Behave the way you would at the theater. (Unless you are one of those people who talk during the show. In which case, stop doing that too.)

Next Page: There’s just one more thing you need to do.

4. Acknowledge the teacher’s hard work.

It goes without saying (I hope) that you should acknowledge your child and his hard work after one of these events. “Wow!” you might say. “You looked just like a trapezoid in that last math skit.” And he will feel proud and successful.

But, regardless of the fact that you can’t fathom how acting like a trapezoid is helpful, it’s entirely likely that the teacher has spent a huge amount of time, energy, and skill making this whole event happen. She could, I imagine, explain to you the benefits of kinesthetic learning and emotional involvement in the internalization of math concepts. But she has also performed the less noticeable feat of causing a group of grade schoolers to all work together to put on a pretty good show. Which is really, really hard.

You’re not obligated to acknowledge her, of course, but she sure would appreciate it. Trust me.

So sit, back, relax and enjoy the show. Or, at least, do a passable impression of enjoying it. Everyone’s got a role to play.

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