The Fear of the Teacher Replacing Parents in Their Children’s Affections
The close relationship a teacher can have with their student may threaten the parent’s primary attachment to their child. The prolonged time a child spends with their teacher, daily routines and expectations, and sharing intimate details about their lives can all lead to a parent feeling displaced. According to Boshkova, Shastina, and Shatunova (2018), when children listen to and obey their teachers more than their parents, it can create role confusion for everyone involved. Teachers must be aware of the potentially conflicting emotions that parents may have about their relationship with their children and take care to reinforce the primary attachment between parent and child.
Emotions that Contribute to Fear
As teachers keep learners under their charge for most of the day, they have more opportunities to form close relationships with them. It can result in anxiety and insecurity for parents who may feel like they are losing their place in their child’s life (Hedlin, Åberg & Johansson, 2019). Anxiety is a normal emotion that everyone experiences at some point in life, but it can be more intense and persistent for some people. It can be debilitating, making it hard to concentrate or function daily. For instance, when the mother of a young child goes back to work, she may worry that her child will become closer to the daycare provider and forget about her. Insecurity is another common emotion that can lead to fear. When a child is overjoyed to see their teacher at the end of the day, it may trigger feelings of inadequacy in the parent. The parent may wonder why their child is not as excited to see them.
While it is natural for parents to feel some degree of anxiety and insecurity, positive emotions can contribute to the fear of the teacher replacing them with their child’s affection. One of these emotions is love. Parents love their children deeply and want what is best for them. However, this positive emotion can also be accompanied by fear (Boshkova, Shastina & Shatunova, 2018). For instance, the parent may worry that their child will love the teacher more than they love the parent. Such fear is seen when a child chooses a teacher over a parent as their confidant. The parent may feel they are losing their place in their child’s life. Doubt and anger are other emotions that may contribute to the fear of the teacher replacing parents in their children’s affection. Parents may doubt their abilities as parents or feel angry that their child has formed a close relationship with their teacher.
Research on the Child’s Relationship with the Primary Figure
Schmidt, Keller, and Rosabal (2021) identified critical factors a primary figure must provide for a child’s healthy development. They include emotional warmth, closeness, and availability. The authors note that when the preceding figure does not provide these factors, the child will often seek them out from other people, such as teachers. As development progresses, the child’s attachments to other people can become more critical than their attachment to the primary figure. For instance, when teenagers have close relationships with their friends, they may confide in them more than they do with their parents. If the primary figure maintains a positive relationship with the child, the child will often continue to seek guidance and support, even as they form attachments to other people. Other people may become secondary attachments, but the primary figure will remain the most critical person in the child’s life. However, if the primary caregiver withdraws from the child’s life or is unavailable, the child may seek out other people to fill that void.
In addition, Little and Derr (2020) explore additional attachments children form outside their homes. They state these attachments are essential for the child’s social and emotional development. The authors suggest that when children have a solid attachment to their primary figure, they are more likely to form positive attachments with other people. For instance, when the father is emotionally warm and close to his child, the child is more likely to develop a positive attachment with their teacher. The correlation between the father’s emotional availability and the child’s attachment to their teacher was highest when the father was involved in the child’s education (Ayob, Christopher & Naidoo, 2022). Also, a good parent-teacher relationship can positively affect the child’s development.
Issues Related to Role Confusion
Role confusion can occur when a teacher feels like they are taking on the parent role or overdoing their responsibilities as a teacher. The first issue is when teachers think they must be everything to their students. They feel they need to be responsible for providing emotional support, being friends, and being role models. This can lead to burnout because teachers may try so hard to fill all these roles that they forget to care for themselves. The second issue is when teachers start to form attachments with their students. They may become too close and start seeing them as their children. This can lead to conflict because the teacher’s loyalty will be divided between their job and the student (Ayob, Christopher & Naidoo, 2022). Teachers might start dictating their lives and choices as they become their children instead of letting the students grow and make their own decisions. For instance, a teacher might tell a student to reject Rasta culture because it is not “appropriate” instead of letting the student explore and learn about it for themselves.
The third issue is when teachers compare their students to their children, which could lead to frustration because they may not understand why their children behave differently than their students (Hedlin, Åberg & Johansson, 2019). For instance, a teacher might think that their child is disrespectful because they do not listen to them, while their student is respectful because they do listen to the teacher. They may fail to consider single-parent households, poverty, or other social factors that can lead to children behaving differently.
Tips for Teachers to Reinforce the Primary Relationships
Teachers can get to know the parents and build a relationship with them. Building a relationship will help the parent feel comfortable talking to the teacher about their child and help the teacher understand the parent’s perspective. For instance, when a mother has a solid relationship with a teacher, she is more likely to feel comfortable discussing her child’s behavior with the teacher (Ayob, Christopher & Naidoo, 2022). Second, teachers can clearly explain their role in the child’s life. They can explain to the parent that they are there to support the child and to help them learn. They can also demonstrate that they are not there to replace the parent in the child’s life. Third, teachers can model the behavior they want to see in the child. For instance, if a teacher wants the child to be respectful, the teacher should obey the parent. Accordingly, this will show the child that respect is essential and that it is something that the teacher values.
The role of the teacher is essential, but it is not to replace the parent in the child’s life. Teachers can take some steps to reinforce the primary relationships between parents and children and to communicate that they do not want to take the parent’s place in the child’s life. By getting to know the parents, being transparent about their role, and modeling the behavior they want to see in the child, teachers can help parents feel comfortable and support the child’s learning.
Ayob, Z., Christopher, C., & Naidoo, D. (2022). Exploring caregivers’ perceptions of their role in promoting early childhood development. Early Child Development and Care, 192(9), 1462-1476.
Boshkova, G., Shastina, E., & Shatunova, O. (2018). The role of grandparents in the child’s personality formation (On children’s literature material). Journal of Social Studies Education Research, 9(2), 283-294.
Hedlin, M., Åberg, M., & Johansson, C. (2019). Too much, too little: Preschool teachers’ perceptions of the boundaries of adequate touching. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 27(3), 485-502.
Little, S., & Derr, V. (2020). The influence of nature on a child’s development: Connecting the outcomes of human attachment and place attachment. Research handbook on childhood natureAssemblages of childhood and nature research, 151-178.
Schmidt, W. J., Keller, H., & Rosabal Coto, M. (2021). Development in context: What we need to know to assess children’s attachment relationships. Developmental Psychology, 57(12), 2206.
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Parents’ emotional response is fear that the teacher will replace them in their children’s affection.
1 Describe the conflicting emotions the parent may have that contribute to this fear. In your response, include two negative emotions and a positive desire.
2. what does research show about the child’s relationship with the primary figure when the child has additional attachments to other people?
3. Describe three issues related to role confusion that a teacher may feel communicate.
4. What can a teacher do to reinforce the primary relationship between the parent and the child and to communicate that the teacher does not desire to take the parent’s place in the child’s life?