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Collaborative Parenting: Raising a Star in a Square Box System By Michael McNeill and Angela Catenaro McNeill

Please note this article is our perception and our story as we guide and help our children through this wondrous life. There is no intent to disrespect our educational system nor the hard work and dedication of our children’s educators. We deeply appreciate and respect the service and care that teachers provide on a day-to-day basis for our children.

collaborative_parenting_3Angela’s Perspective:

During our son Elliot’s grade school years, he had been identified as having a learning disability related to his reading skills. Because of challenges with his printing and fine motor abilities, he was given an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) developed by his teachers. He was approved for working with the Core Resource support in his school and had an amazing experience working with the Intensive Support and Assessment Program (ISA) provided by our Canadian school system. Throughout it all, Elliot inspired us with his resilience, intelligence, and unique sense of humour.

When it came time for his annual parent-teacher interview, we booked the last appointment because we knew with Elliot’s specific needs, we would need more time for review and discussion.

During our session with Elliot present, his teacher shared how she often encouraged him to come to her with any questions or needs. We reiterated to Elliot the importance of feeling comfortable when asking for help. Elliot said he understood and agreed that he would ask for support when needed.

Later in the interview, we discussed the issues around Elliot’s organizational skills. The teacher had paired him with a classmate who was very organized. She felt this classmate could help model good organizational skills for Elliot. As I listened, an uncomfortable feeling welled up within me. How could observing a very organized peer help Elliot improve his skills? I wondered. Since he had not learned to keep a tidy, organized home from my example, how could he possibly learn from a peer? Thinking, Well, she is a trained school teacher, she probably knows better how to handle this situation at school, I tucked my feelings aside.

As the school year progressed, Elliot worked with an Occupational Therapist at home to improve his fine motor skills and executive skills, including organization. Though we saw some gains, there was little improvement in his organizational skills, and he still needed consistent cues and reminders.

One day at home, Elliot confided that the classmate who was supposed to be helping him had been making mean comments about Elliot’s messes and even his lunch, which hurt Elliot’s feelings. Seeing my son’s distress brought me back to the feelings that I’d experienced at the parent-teacher interview earlier in the school year. Once again, I wondered, Could Elliot really learn organization simply by observing another child who was outwardly very organized? Could another child his age have the maturity and skills to help a fellow student without judgement?”

I found that my initial whisper of intuition had been correct. This approach was not empowering my son. Sitting beside an organized classmate did not encourage Elliot to do better; it only highlighted the differences between the two of them and brought up feelings of shame for him.

Over the ensuing weeks, Elliot revealed during family dinners that his teacher would dump any desks that were disorganized over onto the floor. We told Elliot that the teacher probably thought this would help kids learn how to organize. He said he didn’t feel it was a good thing because he felt embarrassed and didn’t trust the teacher.

Mike’s Perspective:

One day as I was parked outside waiting to pick the kids up from school, Elliot seemed to be taking a longer time than usual to come out. After five minutes had passed since the last child left the school, I started to get concerned that there was something wrong. It was not uncommon for Elliot to take longer than most, but this was much longer than usual. With the school doors locked, I started to walk around outside and looked in through a window to see if I could make sense of what was going on. A few minutes later I saw Elliot through the window, slowly coming down the stairs, crying, with his head down and without his coat. I knew something was up. I took a deep breath before he opened the door.

I asked him what was wrong. He spoke garbled words, without making much sense. The next thing I did was to give him a hug. He then pulled me back into the school. Once inside, I crouched down to his level, took some time and waited for him to calm down. I consciously wanted to show him I was paying attention by stopping, facing my body towards him, and looking him in the eye. I wanted him to know that I was not being distracted by anything else and that I was taking this very seriously.

As we slowly walked down the hallway to his classroom, Elliot shared a little more, and I began to understand the situation better. He said that he could not find the project on which he had been working. It was not in his desk where he’d left it. Explaining the situation to me, Elliot seemed to gain some composure.

As we walked back into Elliot’s classroom, he started to cry again. His teacher was still there finishing up her day. From far across the classroom she said that she couldn’t understand why Elliot was so upset. She stayed the length of the room away and made no effort to come closer to us, though she did make an attempt to reassure Elliot that they would find his work. I noticed that Elliot was getting more upset as she spoke. I wanted to react and defend my son’s feelings, but I realized that at that particular moment, debating with the teacher would not have been the best thing to do. I put my arm around Elliot and reiterated to him that if his teacher said it was not a problem, then it would all be okay,

I know that as my son grows up he will have to deal with situations that he finds difficult, and he will have to learn strategies to deal with those situations in his life. One of the hardest things about being a parent is in being able to step back and not fight our children’s battles for them.

Our Collaborative Solution:

Being organized is a life skill. For some, that skill is intrinsic, while it takes a more conscious effort for others. To help our child navigate through a school system that emphasizes strengths and weaknesses as good and bad, we decided our best approach points would be to:

  1. Take a step back. We know our focus is to support our child at home. Our focus is not to try to change the teacher`s perspective of our son. She is doing her best within a system that expects children to fit into a box. In our opinion, the system does not allow children to find their own way to the answer. It sets clear lines as to what is considered right and wrong. We have decided consciously to connect with our children by letting them know they are heard and supported while we guide them to the best of our abilities to manage the challenges they experience.
  1. Emphasize the strengths and support the challenges. What is important to both of us is to support our son to work on the things that he needs to work on as well as focus on the things that he does well. From our perspective, the current school system seems to stress the deficiency. Our world needs our unique gifts and differences to create balance and harmony – we all can’t be good at the same thing. We need the accountants and lawyers, just as much as we need the artists and teachers. It affects the self-esteem of our youth when we expect every child to sit quietly, be neat, and don’t say a word while the teacher talks.
  1. Take personal responsibility. Both of our kids don`t seem to appreciate school at this time in their lives and often emphasize it’s negative aspects. We stress that learning how to read, write, and understand arithmetic is very important. Canada’s open educational system is a blessing, and we encourage them to find gratitude for that. However, we also acknowledge our belief that the definition of success is not solely about academic success. When our children face a challenge at school, we always bring the conversation back to self-responsibility, i.e., What can you learn from this? How do you feel? How can you do better for yourself? We believe that teaching self-responsibility will empower our children to take action in situations when they can, as well as decrease the victim mentality on issues that they have no control over.

Trust our intuitive feelings and advocate for the good of our child. We trust we know what our child needs and we know when it is time to advocate or when to step back. Living consciously helps us to know when an issue concerning our children has “triggered” us emotionally, and when we are reacting to “our stuff” and not their situation. Reacting and pointing fingers won’t help them. We do our best to look at the situation, and if “our stuff” comes up, we work through it. However, if it is in our children’s best interest to bring up an issue with their teacher or school, we will follow through with that guidance.


mike_angela_mcneill_150pxsqMike and Angela are married and have enjoyed partnership for 18 years. They live in Ontario Canada with their two children, Elliot aged twelve and James aged nine. Both Mike and Angela are certified in the CosmiKids™ teaching methodology Resonant Learning Approach™ and provide training programs to parents, teachers, and anyone who desires to learn tools to live a more conscious and inspired life.

Mike has been working within the rehabilitation and insurance industries for the past 23 years. Angela is a certified Yoga teacher, Reiki Energy Healer, Spiritual Life Coach, and Goodwill Ambassador of CosmiKids Canada. Angela is a founding member of the New Thought Educational Consortium, an international group of individuals that are collectively focusing on the empowerment.