How to talk to your child’s teacher about behavior challenges

Jan 23, 20245 minutes read time

Key points:

  • Before you sit down with your child’s teacher, decide upfront that you are allies, not enemies.
  • Talk with your child’s teacher, not at them – and keep the conversation focused on solutions, not finger-pointing.
  • There are a number of specific questions you can ask and strategies you can discuss to address your child’s behavior in class.

‘We need to talk.’Those four words from a child’s teacher can strike fear in the heart of any parent. No one likes to learn that their kid’s behavior is causing issues in class. But if you go into the conversation with the right mindset – and a commitment to work together – everybody can come out a winner.
Here’s what you should do before, during, and after you sit down with your child’s teacher.

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What you should do before talking to your child’s teacher

1. Decide up front: you and your child’s teacher are allies, not enemies

Child development doesn’t take place in a vacuum, according to the late psychologist Uri Brofenbrenner. It relies on a complex network of relationships with multiple caregivers: parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, etc.

Kids benefit when their caregivers act as a team, supporting and respecting each other. On the flip side, when parents, teachers and other caregivers butt heads, it can actually hold your child back.

Let’s call this Uri’s law: the more you work with your child’s teacher and not against each other, the better off your kid will be.

2. Talk to your child before meeting with their teacher

Assuming you know ahead of time, let your child know about the meeting. That will give them a chance to voice any concerns they may have. Ask open-ended questions to get a better understanding of what might be going on. For example:

How are you feeling about school lately?How are you getting along with your classmates?Do you feel like you’re getting the help you need at school?

3. Create a plan

Make a list of questions you’d like to ask your child’s teacher. Also, think about any useful information you can share about what’s going on at home, or strategies you use to handle any behavioral issues.

The goal is to achieve a consistent response to challenging behaviors at school and home, to give you the best chance of seeing positive results.

Parent and child walking to school, talking about behavior challenges

How to have a productive conversation with your child’s teacher

You’ve got the right mindset and you’ve got a plan. What about the meeting itself? Here are 4 tips for how to have a constructive conversation.

Keep calm

If your child’s behavior is causing challenges, it’s normal to be concerned. But remember Uri’s law: their teacher is not the enemy. Chances are you both want the same thing – form a team for your child’s sake.

2. Talk with them, not at them

Most teachers are underpaid, under-resourced and tasked with the all-but-impossible challenge of accommodating two dozen or more kids and their parents. All of which is to say, treating your child’s teacher with a bit of respect will go a long way.

Here are a few specific ways you can do just that:

  • Make eye contact to show you’re listening.
  • Resist the urge to interrupt them.
  • Ask questions from a place of curiosity, to better understand their concerns.
  • Repeat their concerns back to them (in your own words) to make sure you’ve heard them.

3. Don’t rush to judgment

Some parents’ first impulse is to look for someone to blame – the teacher, the school, a classmate… it’s understandable but misguided.

Resist the urge to make excuses for your child’s behavior or point fingers. It’s counterproductive. Besides, chances are very slim your child’s teacher is making it all up.

Focus on solutions

Your goal should be to walk out of that meeting with an action plan to help your child thrive at school. Keep the conversation focused on your child and how you and their teacher can work together to help them succeed.

What should you say when meeting with your child’s teacher?

Questions to ask…

  • What have you observed in class? Ask for specifics about any behaviors your teacher has observed: what your child is doing, how often it’s happening, what seems to be triggering  the behavior, and what the consequences are.
  • What resources does the school have to help? Your child’s school should be equipped to help kids who are struggling. For example, there may be counseling or other practical support available.
  • How can I help? This is the big one – and it will go a long way with your child’s teacher. Ask what you can do at home to help address any behavioral issues at school.
  • How should we keep in touch? Ask how they prefer to communicate. Some may want to stick to an official school communications platform like Seesaw, ClassTag or ClassDojo. Others may prefer email or a phone call.

Information to share…

Be sure to mention any concerns you have about your child’s well-being. If you’ve noticed any behavioral issues at home, let their teacher know.

Also include any relevant information about the child’s home life. Are there any medical conditions, emotional issues, or life changes (such as a divorce or a recent move) that could be affecting their behavior.

Strategies to discuss…

  • Rules. Discuss rules for behavior that can be used at home and in the classroom. (Consistency is key.) Remember to frame each rule positively. For example: ‘We keep our hands and feet to ourselves’, and ‘We use calm, quiet voices.’
  • Praise and rewards. Discuss how both of you can use specific praise and rewards to motivate your child. It can be especially powerful to reward the whole class for one child’s positive behavior.
  • Consequences. Talk about what kind of consequences are used in the classroom for challenging behavior. Some might be inadvertently rewarding, such as being sent to the principal. (Some kids are delighted at the chance to skip out on a lesson.) Aim for a consistent approach to consequences at school and home. A brief time-out on the edge of the classroom is often a helpful way to respond to a disruption.
  • Home-to-school chart. Also known as a daily behavior report card, this is a tool for improving communication between families and schools, setting behavioral goals and rewarding kids for meeting them. There’s growing evidence these charts can be effective at improving disruptive behaviors, including hyperactivity and inattention in the classroom. Here’s how it works:
    Identify 2 to 3 specific goals for your child based on the most important behaviors to encourage, such as ‘keep my hands and feet to myself’, or ‘follow instructions.’Break each day into sections, such as: start of school to recess, recess to lunch, and lunch to dismissal. (It might be too much to expect them to be able to follow the rules for the entire day, especially at the beginning.)
    Your child gets a point or a tick from the teacher if they follow each rule for a set period of time. The teacher can also use praise and rewards to motivate them.
    The chart goes home with the child each day. If the child met their goal for that day (that is, a certain number of points or ticks), the parent provides an appropriate reward at home.
Kids painting

What to do after you meet with your child’s teacher

Your next steps are just as important as the initial conversation. Here’s what you should do after you and your child’s teacher sit down together:

Make a plan

You should leave the meeting with a set of goals for your child and agreed-upon action steps you can take to help your child meet them.

Follow up

Schedule a follow-up meeting a week or so after you’ve put your plan into action, so you and the teacher can review your child’s progress and make any changes as needed.

Hearing that your child is struggling in class is never fun. But hang in there. With the right mindset, the right plan and the right follow-up, you and your child’s teacher can set them on a path to success.

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