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Working With Enmeshed Parents

We have been working with a parent recently of a student who has both learning (LD) issues and emotional (SN) issues; what is interesting is the relationship between these issues and how the parent is parenting. So often, the children we work with have more problems relating to a lack of parenting than with the academics, the accommodations, or a school’s policies. To help parents understand the balancing act, we often use an analogy of a fence: sometimes it is important to clearly sit on the side of the fence with your child, defending their actions, helping the school/program see his/her side of the problem.

Other times, as a parent, you need to clearly sit on the side of the fence with the school or program, helping your child understand how their behavior or lack of taking responsibility for their actions is getting in the way of being successful. And finally, sometimes as a parent, you need to sit on the fence itself, helping the school understand your child’s view and the child understand the school or program’s view of a problem.

We have found that schools and programs often feel that parents are “taking the side” of their child in a way that is harmful or detrimental to the child learning that by obeying rules, keeping boundaries, and doing hard, sometimes uncomfortable work will result in long term success. Often, by making “excuses” for children, “covering for them,” or “rescuing them”, parents are teaching kids to be helpless, defensive, and uncooperative with school or program staff.

The usual result is that the parent then becomes defensive and negative about the school or program and the administration’s policies which starts a very negative, vicious cycle that results in a “no win” situation ultimately for everyone. As the old saying goes, “It is easier to attract bees with honey than with vinegar.”

If parents take time to listen to both their own child AND the school/ program staff members, often the results are much more positive.

As educational consultants, we are often called on to be the advocate for the student at a school or program. To be sure, there are times when a child is misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and mistreated. It is important for us to remember there are times when schools are disrespected, asked to make too many exceptions, and asked to ignore or cover up violations in the school or program policies. In these cases, we as educational consultants need to learn where to sit. Are we on the fence, with our client and their family, or with the school/program? Ours must be a choice that allows all parties to move forward in positive ways that continues to support the child.


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