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How to Talk to Teachers: The Smart Way

We could all hope that the conversations we have with our children's teachers are positive and easy to navigate. However, it isn't always that easy.

Teachers can provide important insight on how your child is performing in school, but they can also be the bearer of bad news. Below are some examples of what a teacher may tell you and how to best respond or move forward from there.

Teacher: "Your child is having trouble with their schoolwork."

Parent should: Ask the teacher for specifics so you can judge what kind of help your child needs:

  • Are they having trouble in every subject or just one?

  • Did they score poorly on a couple tests or many?

  • Are they doing the work, or are they frustrated and can't handle it?

Once you have these answers, create a plan: Always get your child's take on the problem. Say, "Your teacher is concerned that you're having a hard time with subtraction. What do you think?" Ask them how you can help, and brainstorm solutions with the teacher, too. She may be able to recommend flash cards or work sheets your child can do at home, or maybe she can fit in extra help sessions with him during lunch or free classroom time. You should check over his homework to discuss mistakes with him and work closely with the teacher to make sure he's improving.

Remember to follow up: Meet with the teacher for a progress report after your child has gotten a few weeks of extra help, If there's been little or no improvement, consider getting extra tutoring or consulting with a counselor or the school's psychologist to make sure they don't have a learning disability.

Teacher: "Your child is acting out in class."

Parent should: Find out what your child is doing:

  • Are they interrupting?

  • Running around?

  • Making noise?

Young kids can't always articulate their feelings, so bad behavior can be a sign that your child is anxious. Ask the teacher whether they are disruptive at the same time every day, which can help you identify the trigger. For example, if your child misbehaves just before gym class, they could be scared kids will make fun of them because they are bad at sports. Another possibility: Maybe they think they aren't getting enough attention from the teacher or the other students, and being loud is their way of grabbing the spotlight. Or you may have a high-energy kid--they can't control themselves during circle time or other quiet moments yet.

One worry to cross off the list: ADHD, even though it's tempting to panic and jump to that conclusion. "If your child hasn't had behavior issues in the past, chances are that ADHD isn't the problem," says Michael Reiff, MD, a developmental behavioral pediatrician at the University of Minnesota.

Once you've gathered information, create a plan: If you suspect performance anxiety is the culprit, say, "Your teacher mentioned that she gave you a time-out before gym again. Would it help if you and I practiced jumping rope together?" Reassure them that everyone thinks they're bad at some things, talk up her best skills.

If your child is just naturally a little too peppy, ask the teacher whether there are ways she could release some energy before quiet times. Maybe she could erase the board or do some other activity before she has to settle down. To handle an attention seeker, remind your child that the best way to get noticed is to follow the rules and do well on her work. (You might also ask the teacher for a list of class rules so you can go over them with your child.) Suggest other ways they can get attention, like doing something nice for a classmate.

Remember to follow up: Meet with the teacher to make sure your child has settled down; if they are still acting up, see your pediatrician. "If their teachers have said every year that they are disruptive in class and now they are more restless than ever, they should be tested for ADHD," says Dr. Reiff.

Teacher: "Your child seems anxious and stressed."

Parent should: Make sure you understand the teacher's definition of anxiety. Ask about the symptoms:

  • Is your child crying at certain times of the day?

  • Do they complain of stomachaches and ask to go to the nurse frequently?

"If your child has started biting their nails, it may just be a bad habit. But if they always liked school and now you learn that they're crying in class every afternoon, there may be a bigger problem," says Dr. Reiff. Perhaps your child is being bullied by another child at recess or they're intimidated by a particular teacher.

Creating a plan: Be empathetic--"I bet it's scary when the music teacher asks you to sing a line in front of the class"--then ask how you can make them feel more comfortable. Offer solutions if they are at a loss: Sing songs with them at home or have them practice taking deep, calming breaths.

If they are afraid of a bully, first reassure them that the teasing isn't their fault and you want them to feel safe. "Tell them that bullying is never okay, and by talking to you and the teacher about the bullying, they're helping to solve the problem," says Dr. Reiff. This encourages him to open up so you can get more details: Was the kid threatening them physically? Calling them names? The teacher and administration should step in (most schools have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying); they often recommend getting the other child's parents involved.

Remember to follow up: Keep in touch with the teacher and the school to make sure your child is more at ease. If they still seem worried, ask the teacher what else you can do to help.

Teacher: "Your child is bullying another kid."

Parent should: Find out how severe the harassment is.

  • Did it happen once--maybe a classmate pressured your child to hit another kid and now they feel bad about doing it?

  • Or have they repeatedly been taunting another classmate by calling them names or hurting them physically?

Create a plan: If it was one incident and your child feels bad about it, talk about what caused them to behave so badly, and have them apologize to the other child. If a friend told them to do it, discuss the dangers of peer pressure. "Role-playing is helpful here because kids think it's fun," says Dr. Reiff. "Let your child say, 'I dare you to hit that girl on the head.' Then you can model a good response, such as 'I don't like getting hit, and I don't like hitting other people. It's not funny.' Then switch roles and have them give a response."

However, if the bullying has been part of a pattern of aggressive behavior, speak to the school psychologist or an outside counselor to see what's triggering it.

Remember to follow up: Check in regularly with the teacher. If your child's still struggling, continue counseling or ask whether the school offers services that help kids improve their social skills.

Remember you are not alone! Reach out to other parents, members of your community, and online resources for support. Read the original resource HERE.