Often parents will ask me: “Should I let my child’s teacher know that he can be a little difficult? I think his trouble last year might have been because he was the youngest boy in the class. And the year before last the other kids in the class had known each other a lot longer, and he might have felt left out. And the year before that, he just really didn’t like his teacher. Maybe things will be better this year. Should I just hope for the best? I don’t want to poison the teacher’s mind against him!” And here’s what I tell these parents:
No! Do not just hope for the best! You should absolutely talk to the teacher about your child’s behavior, and have this talk as soon as you can. Why? Because your relationship with your child’s teacher is going to make or break the year.
Does your child get in trouble at school? Here’s how you need to handle this situation:
1. What can you do to solve the problem behavior? Have a plan.
As you’ll see in a minute, one of the best ways to mitigate teachers’ and administrators’ response to your child’s acting out at school, is to let the teacher know what you’re doing to help. So it’s best to have a clear plan for addressing this problem behavior. Now, it IS true that it’s most effective to intervene in problems in the context in which they’re happening – and this means your interventions probably won’t be enough – the teacher has to help, too.
Having said this, though, something that really decreases problem behavior at school is simply to raise expectations at home! That’s right: The home environment is one of the best places for kids to develop self-management- and emotional-regulation skills, and while behavior is very much influenced by context, still, these skills DO generalize to the school setting. I talk a little more about this in this blog (When Kids Are Aggressive At School).
2. Describe your child’s patterns.
Once you have a plan for addressing the problems at school, talk to the teacher: “I want to let you know that Taylor has had a hard time not getting up during lessons and not talking to the other kids when he’s supposed to be listening. He seems to have the most trouble when there’s less space between him and another kid. Last year it was a lot harder for him to pay attention when he had to stand in line for recess, but it was a lot easier when he was working at his desk.” Don’t get into a super-long explanation here – just tell the teacher what the problems are.
3. Ask about the teacher’s discipline style.
Ask the teacher about their discipline style. “Can you talk to me about how discipline works in your classroom?” “What is your classroom-management style?” “Can you give me some examples of how you’ve handled challenging kids in the past?”
4. Provide the teacher with YOUR solution!
This is the main reason you are having this conversation with the teacher. Your number-one goal is to shift the dynamic so that your child is not simply disruptive – instead, you are aware of it, and you and your family are taking the lead in managing it. So let the teacher know: “Here’s what worked last year…” And then ask: Is that something you could see working in your classroom? Be open, and be respectful! You catch more cats with catnip!
5. Once you’ve let the teacher know what works with your child, let them know that you will be monitoring the problem.
Ask: “What’s the best way to communicate with you? Because we’re going to be checking in regularly.” Let the teacher know that you’ll be asking for updates throughout the year – and let him or her know that in the beginning of the year, you’ll be asking for them on a weekly basis. Now, I know that no one wants to be “that parent.” You don’t want your teacher to see you as high-maintenance and annoying. Well, you should be that parent to some extent. You are taking the lead, so you do need to assess things regularly. Again, though, don’t criticize, confront, or be defensive. Instead, ask questions and invite feedback.
And when you ask about your child’s progress, be specific. This is not “How’s she doing?” Instead, it’s “Is she listening when you tell her to do something?” or “Has she been able to ask for help instead of hitting?” And also prompt the teacher for the good news: “What did you appreciate about her behavior this week? I want to give her that feedback – that will encourage her.”
Bottom line: Be Proactive!
If your child’s behavior is challenging for teachers, it’s really important and really helpful to show up as someone who is taking the lead in managing this problem. When parents ask for my help with disruptive school behavior I reach out to the teacher immediately, and this puts the family in a strong position. It’s as if the family is saying, “Here’s our treatment team. Would you be able to join us?” This proactive approach tends to alleviate the teacher’s frustration and it also provides a preferred alternative to the less desirable solutions (like expulsion) that are the go-to for some schools.
Did you know that at Wits’ End we can also work with your child’s teacher, to support them with strategies to solve the problems at school? I can give teachers practical suggestions that quickly change the dynamics in the classroom, and I can also help you to work with the teacher in ways that will minimize conflict and help you to get the outcomes you want. Go here to schedule a free consult with me!