How teachers can support children with difficulties at home

Added 24th January 2020

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Being a teacher is about far more than teaching children various historical dates and giving them the skills they need to add one and one together. It is about being a mentor, a guru, someone who is willing to listen, and a person who a child can look up to.

Of course, what matters most as a teacher is looking after children, taking care of their long-term wellbeing, and giving them every opportunity to develop. That means attempting to understand the situation a child may find themselves in and doing what is appropriate – and altogether correct – to make their living situation as pleasant as possible. But what are the warning signs that a child is having difficulties at home? And, what are your responsibilities if you spot something amiss?

Here, we outline three areas of concern to be aware of.

1. Illness in the family

If the child or one of the child's family members are suffering from illness, this can cause disruption for the child both at home and in school. It will be a sensitive time and as a teacher, you don't want to come across as interfering. But checking in to see if the child is keeping up in class and is generally in good spirits can help. Speaking to the family is important as well, so that you have as much information as possible. 

2. Divorce

Almost one in two marriages ends in divorce, and so it is inevitable that, should you be a teacher, you will come across children whose parents are going through a divorce while they are under your guidance.

It can be difficult to know exactly what to do, especially as every child will experience divorce differently: some will see it as the end of their life as they know it, while others will perhaps have no real concept of what is happening. This means they’ll react differently, and you’ll have to tailor your approach to suit each child.

Sometimes, too, it can be equally problematic if parents stay together – a combative parental relationship can obviously be very emotionally distressing for the children, too. According to figures from Direct Line, for example, over a fifth of parents actually stay together for longer than they want to because of the children. 

The first thing you must do is be aware that the child (or children) might be prone to emotional outbursts. These are normal, and it is part of the process of accepting, and subsequently overcoming, the situation they find themselves in. Your role as a teacher and a trusted grown-up is to comfort them and focus on their emotional well-being. If they want to talk, be there to listen. If they need to ask questions, ensure you know what the right answers are.

3. Violence at home         

When a child is a victim of violence, either as a witness or in a first-hand capacity, it is very important for teachers to take appropriate steps. It is important to raise the issue with the right authorities – your direct superior to begin with – and then ensure the child knows they can talk to you whenever they want. 

This can be an incredibly difficult situation for a child given that they are not always emotionally mature enough to handle such scenarios, so make it very clear that if, and when, they are feeling ready to open up, you will be available to hear them out.

In a ground-breaking survey conducted in the US, 61% of mothers admitted that they have at some point ‘slapped or hit’ their child as a means of disciplining them. Statistics like this truly showcase the fact that violence in the home is very real, and as a teacher, you may encounter it on numerous occasions.


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