How to Talk to Kids about the Teachers’ Strike
~By Michelle Siegman, MSW, LCSW
Late Sunday night, many parents’ worst fears became a reality: Chicago teachers went on strike for the first time in 25 years. Whether you agree with our city government or the Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU), your first priority is your children. How are you going to explain why they don’t have school? What do you say when your child asks, “Why are my teachers walking in a circle in front of my school?” What about childcare? These are only a few of the questions bouncing around in your head while the battle between CPS and the CTU rages on.
To have a constructive conversation with your child about the strike, I suggest starting with a basic definition of the word. A strike is the stopping of work by the teachers to let their bosses know what they need to continue their job. Strikes typically last for a short period of time until both sides come to an agreement.
After explaining the concept of a strike to your child, do your best to understand exactly what your child is asking. A child may be worried about not having any more play dates because of the strike, as opposed to wanting to know exactly what the teachers are asking for and whether their demands will be met. Ask probing questions and assure your child that this is a temporary situation. Answer questions with simple, age-appropriate, and specific statements.
A helpful cartoon book about strikes is Animal Strike at the Zoo by Karma Wilson. It’s an exaggerated account of the demands the animals make on their zookeepers. With its cute story, this book is likely to spark a conversation that feels non-threatening to your children. Remember: kids generally react to their parents’ moods, positive or negative, and their response is likely to mirror your own. If they sense that you are anxious about childcare or that you are frustrated because of the strike, they are likely to experience distress as well.
Here are some quick tips for parents:
1. Keep worried, adult conversations private and out of earshot of the kids.
2. Do your best to maintain a scheduled and consistent routine while your child is not in school.
3. Ask probing questions to understand and allay your child’s concerns.
4. Keep a positive state of mind so your children are likely to do the same.
5. If possible, take advantage of the beautiful weather and the incredible cultural opportunities throughout Chicago to enhance your children’s learning and distract them from missing school.
6. Reassure your children that their teachers still love them and enjoy seeing them each and every day in the classroom. Remind them that teachers are missing them as well.
Good luck, parents, and let’s hope the strike ends and our children are back in the classrooms soon!
About Michelle Siegman
Michelle is a Chicago-based licensed clinical therapist with expertise in the areas of building social skills, bullying prevention, and implementing behavioral plans. Her eight years in the school system have provided her with an inside track and unique perspective of the academic environment. You can contact Michelle directly at (312) 259-5844.