My Kid Is Scared of Substitute Teachers

Which can only mean one thing — it’s genetic.

Mary Lanaux Katzman
A Parent Is Born
Published in
4 min readNov 13, 2020


Experiencing Kindergarten the second time around as a parent is awesome. There are adorable pictures posted to a private classroom Instagram account. Hearing the daily updates of “I got a sticker!” “I knew all my sight words!” “I was the table captain today!” are an absolute delight. Frequent emails and curriculum updates from the teacher are a parent’s dream.

The weekly update we got one Friday let us know that our teacher would be taking a vacation day soon. (Well deserved considering the pandemic challenges this year.) This meant a pretty significant milestone in my parenting career, and somewhat of a test for my daughter.

Photo by Jason Sung on Unsplash

I very nonchalantly mentioned this news to her. She wasn’t phased. Phew, I thought. The rest of the new week went on, it wasn’t mentioned again until we were walking home from school the day before. I was excitedly told that her class had made a donut poster that day. If the substitute gave the class ten sprinkles on the poster for good behavior they would get a donut party when their teacher returned next week. This was great. She seemed excited!

But as she was melting down later that night over a iPad game that was taking too long to load, my mom-sense wondered if there was more to this story. I just knew what was coming. I had hoped it wouldn’t, but it was here.

“Are you feeling something else?”

“I don’t want to have a substitute tomorrow! I want my teacher!” she sobbed.

When I was exactly her age, substitute teachers were my number one anxiety trigger. I would, quite literally, make myself sick every morning before school ruminating over that big what-if. What if I have a substitute today?

And those days came true, believe it or not. I did have substitute teachers! I even had a substitute for six weeks in Kindergarten while my teacher recovered from a car accident. And, I don’t have a single unpleasant memory of them. I only remember the consuming anxiety of anticipating them.

This was how my highly-anxious nature manifested as a child. When it wasn’t substitutes, it was sleepovers. Really, it was any opportunity to play the what-if game when I wasn’t somewhere I felt completely safe. As a parent, I have been acutely aware of any anxious tendencies in my children, and very careful not to give them any reason to needlessly worry. I’m not naive to think I can prevent them from feeling any anxiety, but I certainly don’t want to project it. I especially want to be prepared to help them through it when it inevitably comes at age five, fifteen or fifty.

So, as she’s sobbing into my chest that night, I use what skills my nearly six-year parenting career has given me.

Empathy: “I know how you feel. When I was five, I didn’t like having substitutes either.”

Acknowledgment: “Tomorrow will be a little bit different. But different days are okay! Different doesn’t have to be scary.”

Daniel Tiger: “Things may change, and that’s okay! Today, we can do things a different way!” (BIG fail. “I’m almost six, mom.”)

She continued to cry, “I just don’t want to go to school tomorrow! I just want to stay home with my mom!”

At this point I just let her have her feelings, knowing full well she was going to school. Meanwhile, her two-year-old brother was putting our various sets of keys into a decorative pumpkin not put away yet from Halloween. Fearing the disappearance of said keys, my husband got hold of the hollow, plastic pumpkin.

“Where’s the bottom of this thing?” he asked.

My two-year-old, as enthusiastically as could be said, “My bottom’s right here, Dada!” patting his diapered bum.

Hearing this, my daughter immediately fell into infectious belly laughs. It was the miracle distraction we needed. We both laughed as long as she wanted and then I said,

“You should tell your substitute that story tomorrow! It’s so funny!”

She now had something to look forward to. She even practiced telling the story back to me.

And the night carried on. The substitute teacher wasn’t mentioned again. She either forgot, or decided not to worry anymore. Only I’m now worried about what her feelings will be in the morning. At least there won’t be a question of IF there’s a substitute. Only what will this substitute be like?

God, I hope she has a sense of humor.