As the new school year gets into full swing, you likely have had opportunities to meet new teachers, classroom aides, intervention specialists, and other staff that may be helping your child. If you haven’t, then the opportunity is probably not far away. Teachers and school staff play a vital role in the day-to-day experience of your child, and they provide you with a set of eyes and ears to situations that require support, encouragement, problem-solving, and guidance.
My goal for parents is to help them become more mindful in their own parenting, emotion expression, and problem-solving. This means becoming more aware of internal and interpersonal dynamics taking place in a given moment, and making intentional values-based choices about how to respond. The mindful parent will recognize and accept their frustration, but still present a regulated self when addressing the child that has spilled the shampoo all over the bathroom floor and left it for someone to step in. Mindful parents respond to situations rather than react. They gather information and ensure understanding of different perspectives, rather than allow their initial emotional reaction to run the show.
Whether you are a student or the parent of a student, you likely have had some positive and some negative experiences with teachers. As you head into the new school year, you can learn how to mindfully communicate, collaborate, and problem-solve with your child’s teacher. Communication with teachers may be related to a child’s academic difficulties, emotional distress, social or behavioral problems. Hopefully, you also find opportunities to communicate about successes, times of growth and courage, and general appreciation for their influence on your child’s development. I discussed some of these ideas with my sister, a previous middle and high school teacher, who emphasized the benefit of parent-teacher teamwork and involving children in this process in appropriate ways. Modeling this mindful approach to your kids will help them develop the effective self-advocacy and joint problem-solving skills you want them to have as they go through high school and into college.
- Be open and approach communication with teachers as a chance to dialogue, understand, and collaborate. Start with the teacher, rather than going to administrators or other staff, unless unique circumstances arise. Modeling a team mentality will be valuable to your child, especially those who are prone to write-off teachers they have trouble gelling with.
- Be flexible. Rather than demand something be changed or implemented the exact way you see it, collaborate to figure out how it can work best for your child and the teacher in that given environment.
- Don’t overlook the many small ways the teacher is interacting with your child and working to address anxieties or issues they may be having. Even on those “bad” days, there could be a handful of ways the teacher connected with your child or helped create positive moments that can be too easily forgotten.
- Do express your thoughts and emotions, but don’t let those emotions cloud the message and potential for collaboration by attacking or demeaning the teacher. Communicate clearly and thoughtfully, without making assumptions about someone’s intent or feelings towards your child.
- Don’t assume you know the full story. Do ask questions and listen to understand the full story, and then figure out what needs to happen next.
- Don’t assume the teacher knows your child’s whole story- social interactions with certain kids, emotional reactions to certain situations, what coping tools work best for them, or if they had a bad nights sleep and are already set up for a rough day. Don’t hide information from teachers that would be helpful as they interact with your child and try to help them grow.
- From the beginning, include your child in the process of communicating with teachers. For a kindergartener, this might simply mean explaining parent-teacher conferences as a “meeting to talk about the things you’re doing well and anything you might need help with. What do you think you’re doing well? What do you think you need help with?” After the conference, summing up your conversation for your child with a simple, “Mrs. Jones thinks you’re a really kind kid and that you help out friends when they need it. She said you seem to like reading and that you’re learning how to read well. She also said sometimes you need reminders about working quietly.” You may begin to include your children in more of the process by reading them an email you wrote to their teacher, asking them what they would like to tell or ask their teacher, or inviting them to come to meetings when appropriate. Including your child in this process will help prepare them to more independently approach teachers and collaborate around academic, emotional, or social issues they face at school.