5 Tips for Talking with Your Child’s Teacher About School Problems

5 Tips for Talking with Your Child’s Teacher About School Problems

It is never a good feeling to get a call from a teacher saying that he or she is concerned about your child. Whether the concerns are about academics or behavior, that kind of call (or note) can send a parent into a panic, or get you feeling guilty.  Or feeling defensive (like “How dare anyone say that my child is having problems with math/reading/sitting still/etc. ?!?”). But, as hard as it may be to do this when you get that kind of call, take a deep breath, and try to follow these tips.

  1. Assume that the teacher has your child’s best interests at heart. It can be very difficult to hear that your child is having issues at school and it can even feel like your child’s teacher might be picking on him. But most teachers only want the best for the children in their classes. And YOU want to best for your child, too. So, (even if you think the teacher doesn’t understand your child) the best way to help your child is by continuing to remain positive (or at least neutral) while you are talking with the teacher.

And remember that the teacher is human, too.  Many teachers find it hard to make a call about a student’s difficulties. So you might both be a little keyed up as the call starts. It is okay to say “This is hard for me to hear/talk about.”  The teacher may feel that way, too.

Even if you have had a negative interaction with the teacher in the past, try to start fresh. This may be really hard to do if you have not had great conversations with this teacher, maybe about another child. One way to approach this might be to say “I know we have had some rough conversations before. Why don’t we start over now?” Or, if you had an idea about why things did not go well in the past, you could make suggestions about changes. For example, it might be hard for you to talk after work because you are very tired. You could ask if the teacher could call you on your lunch break or if you could talk before school starts. If you really don’t think that you can get around past difficulties, you could request that you have a meeting where someone else, like the principal or school counselor, is present.

  1. Find out more about the issue. It can be tempting to tell the teacher why your child cannot possibly be having the problems that the teacher is talking about. Before you do, take the opportunity to get some more information about the issue. You could ask questions like:

“Can you tell me specifically what is happening?” This gives the teacher a chance to describe the behaviors or difficulties that are happening. Ask for examples if you need more information.

“Can you tell me when and where the behavior/difficulty is happening?” This information can be very helpful in allowing both you and the teacher to see patterns in and triggers for your child’s behavior. For example, maybe your daughter has trouble sitting still around lunch time. That could mean that she needs to be able to take a break to get her wiggles out in the middle of the morning instead of having to wait until lunch.

  1. Be a detective with the teacher. All behaviors and difficulties have causes or triggers. So talking about when and where the issues are happening can help both you and the teacher to understand why the behavior might be happening. If this is something that has happened at home in the past, you could share that with the teacher. For example, maybe you know that when your son gets scared, he has a hard time sitting still. So if he is having trouble sitting still at school, suggest to his teacher that you work together to find out what might be making your son scared or anxious. Some things to remember:

If there are things going on at home that might be contributing to difficulties at school, let the teacher know. Your family might be having a stressful time because you are worried about how to make the rent payment or trouble with other family members. Stress at home can affect how children behave and learn at school. You don’t have to tell the teacher all the details, but if you let him know that things are tough at home right now, that will help him work with your child.

  1. Work with the teacher to come up with a plan for addressing the issue. Teachers meet a lot of kids over their careers and they may have seen the issue happening with your child with other kids. So ask your teacher what has worked in the past. It is worth trying strategies that have been successful. Also, you know your child very well and if there are strategies that work well with her, tell the teacher about them. Once you and the teacher have a plan for school, ask how you can support it at home. For example, perhaps the teacher would like to give your child stickers for each time that she raises her hand to ask a question. You could commit to looking at your child’s sticker sheet with her every evening after school and congratulating her. And maybe she could earn a reward, like picking the family meal on the weekend, for getting a certain number of stickers for the week.
  1. Follow up with the teacher to see how things are going. It is important to stay in contact with the teacher to find out how the plan is going. There are some strategies for staying in touch with your child’s teacher that you could use, like creating a notebook that your child takes from home to school where you and the teacher can jot notes for each other. Or you could schedule follow-up phone calls. This will help you be able to support the plan at home.

Communicating with your child’s teacher about an issue can seem scary. But ultimately, your child will have the best chance at school success when you and his teacher work together.

Katherine Pears
Dr. Katherine Pears is a senior scientist at Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC). She earned her Ph.D in clinical psychology and has worked with OSLC since 1998. Katherine is the principal investigator and co-developer of the Kids In Transition to Schools (KITS) program. Currently, she oversees all the clinical and research activities for KITS. When she’s not in her office, you’ll find Katherine in the kitchen whipping up her latest creation or outdoors hiking a scenic trail.

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