Teach Your Children to ‘Manage Up’

How to arm kids with tools to deal with the difficult adults in their life

Katherine Reynolds Lewis
Forge
Published in
5 min readFeb 24, 2020

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Photo: Cavan Images/Getty Images

WWhen my son was in the third grade, he came home one day complaining about the school librarian. She had yelled at him for talking as his class walked into the media center. And worst of all, he didn’t get to help shelve books — one of his favorite jobs. “She hates me,” he said.

Not every adult is going to “get” your child. The librarian was just one in a string of teachers, coaches, and other adults who would have power over my child while I was absent — and who might not appreciate his creative, witty, and, I admit, high-energy self. For him to be able to change the course of their relationship, I would have to borrow a time-honored tradition from the world of business, and empower him to “manage up.”

If you face a similar challenge with your child, try these three steps:

Identify the problem

The first step is to gather information from your child about past interactions. “Let’s slow this down; let’s back this up; walk me through what happened,” psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore suggests saying. This process will help both you and your child to pinpoint the context. What happened before the adult turned sour? Is your child truly being singled out? Perhaps this teacher is cranky with everyone, or something unrelated prompted an outburst.

Ask open-ended questions about the sequence of events from the teacher’s point of view. This helps your child develop empathy and perspective-taking, crucial for any relationship.

You may also uncover a clue that points the way to a solution. Kennedy-Moore, author of the book Kid Confidence, teaches kids about pet peeves to explain disproportionate reactions, such as the teacher who explodes when someone forgets a pencil.

Then again, sometimes the problem really is (sorry) your kid’s own behavior. Maybe the difficulty arises from your child talking incessantly with his BFF, so urging him to choose a different seat solves the problem. Maybe the issue is a child who directly challenges the teacher, and the answer is reminding them to speak with more tact.

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Katherine Reynolds Lewis
Forge
Writer for

Journalist writing about science, children, mental health, race, gender, disability, education and related topics. Author of The Good News About Bad Behavior.