It’s common for children to have problems at school. Most problems are minor, and you and your child can sort them out at home. But some issues need parent-teacher cooperation and problem-solving. Here’s how to make it work.
Good parent-teacher relationships
A good relationship with your child’s teacher and school is a great starting point for handling any problems that come up at school.
You can lay the groundwork for a good parent-teacher relationship by introducing yourself and getting to know the teacher as early as possible. Communicating and building relationships with your child’s teacher is better than having contact with the teacher only when there’s a problem.
Good parent-teacher relationships mean children:
- do better academically, emotionally and socially
- are happier at school
- attend school more regularly
- are better behaved.
Minor school problems: what to do
It’s normal for children to have some problems at school – for example, problems with school routines, making friends or schoolwork.
The first thing is to stop and think about the problem. How big is the problem? Can you let it go? Can you sort it out at home? Or do you need to talk to the teacher?
There are some problems that you can just let go. Sometimes your child just needs you to listen and understand, but not to act. For example, ‘I got a word wrong in my spelling test today’, or ‘I missed out on the student council’. You can listen, give your child a cuddle and tell your child that everyone makes mistakes or misses out on things they want.
Children can build resilience and learn to cope with disappointment by learning to let smaller problems go.
There might be some minor problems that you and your child can sort out at home. You can encourage your child’s own problem-solving abilities by asking her what she could do to solve the problem.
You could also teach your child a useful strategy for handling these problems himself. For example, if your child is forgetting to bring his reading diary home, a useful strategy might be for him to put it straight into his bag after classroom reading.
Solving small problems at home builds problem-solving skills and helps your child become more independent and responsible.
Other problems might need help from the teacher. For example, your child might not be eating her snack or lunch at school and you might need the teacher to remind her to eat.
Persistent or complex problems: what to do
If a problem won’t go away or is more complicated, you might need to work on the problem with your child’s teacher. For example, your child might be having ongoing difficulties in the playground with another child and your home strategies haven’t worked.
In this situation, a calm and positive approach is more likely to get a positive outcome for your child. Here’s what to do.
Pause to calm down
If something has just happened to upset your child, this can upset you too. But try to take some time to calm down before you do anything. This will help you avoid doing something you might regret later, like sending an angry email.
You could say, ‘I see you’re very upset about this, and I’m upset too. We need to calm down so we can think about what to do’. Saying this will help your child to learn this strategy too.
Use it as a teaching opportunity
Even with a serious problem, you can model positive problem-solving for your child by being positive, thinking about solutions and talking about working with the teacher. This is better than complaining or being aggressive.
You could say something like, ‘Let’s ask Mr Smith if he has any ideas about how we can sort out this problem’. This kind of approach shows your child that you value the teacher’s opinion.
No matter what you think, it’s important to speak positively and respectfully about your child’s teacher and school in front of your child. If you complain or criticise the teacher, your child will do the same.
Go through the right channels
This usually means talking directly to your child’s teacher to start with. It’s best to make an appointment. Going straight to the principal can make the problem bigger than it is.
When there are problems, people sometimes feel defensive. For example, if either you or the teacher feels criticised, you could both end up feeling defensive.
But defensiveness can get in the way of problem-solving, so it’s good to try seeing the teacher’s perspective and to help the teacher see your perspective too. For example, ‘I can see it’s unrealistic to expect you to spend lunch time in the playground helping Ethan, but I’m worried because he’s lonely and has nobody to play with. How can we both help him with this?’
Parent-teacher problem-solving steps
If you decide you need to have a meeting with your child’s teacher about a serious problem, the following steps can help you and the teacher work together to get a positive outcome.
1. Identify the problem
Be clear and specific about what the problem is – for example, what’s happening, how often and who’s involved. It can help to use a question. For example, the problem of ‘How can we help Brenna make some friends to play with?’ is easier to solve than ‘None of the children will play with Brenna’.
It’s also helpful to ask your child’s teacher about the problem. This way you’ll hear about the situation from another person’s point of view. For example, ‘Brenna is saying no one wants to play with her. Does this sound right from what you’ve seen?’
2. Identify wants, needs and concerns
Allow everyone to identify their needs, wants and concerns. If you want your child’s teacher to appreciate your concerns, it’ll help if you show that you appreciate the teacher’s position.
Use sentences such as ‘I understand…’, ‘I’m concerned about …’, ‘I need ….’ and ‘I want …’. For example, ‘I understand that it’s a big class, but I’m concerned that Alistair is falling behind because he doesn’t understand this maths’.
3. Come up with solutions
Work with the teacher to come up with as many potential solutions to the problem as you can. Your child’s teacher probably has a lot of experience dealing with school problems and will have strategies that have worked in the past. It’s very important not to judge ideas at this point. This increases the chances of finding the right solution to your problem.
4. Evaluate the solutions
Once you and the teacher have listed as many ideas as possible, think about the advantages and disadvantages of each solution. If a solution has more disadvantages than advantages, cross it off your list. Keep doing this until only useful and possible solutions remain.
When you’re doing this, it’s important to be realistic. For example, it’s not reasonable to expect a teacher to sit with your child during difficult activities, but it is reasonable to expect the teacher to check in with your child every so often.
5. Choose one and give it a go
Pick the best idea, or a combination of ideas, to try out. Write down what you and the teacher have agreed, who will do what and when. Decide when you’ll meet again to look at how the solution is working. Give the solution 1-2 weeks to work before you talk about it again.
6. Assess how it went
Consider everyone’s opinions and acknowledge everyone’s efforts when you look at how well the solution has worked:
- What has worked well?
- What hasn’t worked as well?
- What could we do differently to help the solution work better?
If the problem still hasn’t gone away, you might need to get others involved to help generate possible solutions. These people might include the school principal or school welfare coordinator. It’s a good idea to let the teacher know you’d like to talk with other staff members.