What do you do when your child's caregiver or teacher requests a conference to discuss your child's behavior? Dinah, the mother of an energetic three-year-old boy, received such a request. Immediately it crossed her mind that Jason had done something terrible. She tried to imagine what it could be. After reading a news report on the rising frequency of children being expelled from preschool and child care programs, Dinah was a little nervous. She really needed the child care provided by Jason's center and losing it would be a hardship for her family.
At the conference, Jason's teacher, Beckie, began by listing all of Jason's recent escapades: He hit other children, he got angry and threw toys, he called other children names, he failed to follow instructions and acted silly at circle time. Beckie presented the bad behavior list as if Jason was to blame, without describing the circumstances that came before each episode or including any other child's role in the episode. At the end of the conference, Beckie shrugged and told Dinah that Jason would have to improve because they had a waiting list of children wanting to enroll and couldn't tolerate a child with Jason's behavior problems. Dinah felt embarrassed and helpless. What could she possibly do to make Jason behave?
This example of a parent-teacher conference depicts some of the things that can go wrong when neither parents nor teachers are adequately prepared or skilled at communicating or solving behavior problems. Dinah, the parent, knew that Jason could be a handful, so she assumed he had behaved badly. Beckie, the teacher, had obviously not been trained to conduct a balanced and helpful conference. She poured out all the complaints that she and other teachers had been saving up. Following is another example, that of a productive and mutually satisfying meeting where parents and teachers worked as partners.
Dinah arrived at the meeting with Jason's father because she knew they would support each other. Beckie opened with some of Jason's strengths: He was a good friend, he was cheerful and compassionate, he told funny stories, and he was an expert block builder. She reassured Jason's parents that he was a normal, active, three-year-old boy. There were also some behaviors she was helping Jason improve. When another child had teased Jason, he hit the child. The teacher helped Jason tell the other child to stop teasing. Jason had trouble expressing frustration, so sometimes he threw toys. The teacher helped him find other activities instead of throwing toys. When Jason didn't seem to hear the teacher's instructions, she tried more physical ways: Getting down to his level, making eye contact, taking his hand, or showing him what to do and where to go. When Jason got silly and disrupted circle time, she gave him a choice of sitting out for a few minutes until he was ready to rejoin the group. At the end of the conference, Beckie repeated that these were normal behaviors for his age and most of these problems would solve themselves within the group setting. Everyone left the conference feeling validated.
Tips for a Successful Parent-Teacher Conference
1. Bring the other parent or another relative with you for support, feedback, and strength.
2. Ask the teacher to describe your child's best qualities before she describes the problems.
3. State your own concerns about your child; they might be different from the teacher's concerns.
4. Ask the teacher to be specific about your child's problems and to limit your discussion to the three
most important problems. This avoids a lot of vague and petty complaining.
5. Ask what strategies the teachers use to set limits or help your child negotiate with other children.
6. If the teacher asks you to change your parenting strategies at home, be open-minded and
cooperative, but also ask how it will actually improve your child's behavior during child care, then
accept or reject her ideas.
7. If needed, ask the teacher for a referral for medical, psychological, or cognitive evaluation.
8. Thank the teacher for her concern and the extra time and effort she has contributed to have this
meeting with you. She needs your support, too!
Eleanor Reynolds is the editor of The Best of the Problem-Solver: Articles for Parents and Teachers and the author of Guiding Young Children: A Problem-Solving Approach. She can be reached by email at email@example.com