I know most teachers are very kind people. I mean, they’ve dedicated their lives to helping children for crying out loud! But when you have to confront your child’s teacher about a problem, it’s natural to be a bit anxious. So how do you approach these difficult conversations?
It takes some masterful people skills and emotions can run high. These are your kids we’re talking about. But there are specific things you can do before, during, and after the conversation to increase the odds of a successful outcome.
BEFORE THE CONVERSATION. You know there’s a problem, but what should you do? First, take some deep breaths and do a gut check.
- Some problems just need more time. Ask yourself, Is this one of those problems?
- You have every right to advocate for your child. You are not being a “problem parent” or “too needy.” Give yourself a mental pep talk if you are feeling afraid.
- Assume best intentions. The teacher/administrator is not a horrible person who wants to ruin children’s lives. Remind yourself to look for the good in this person so you can build on that.
- Know that many difficult conversations may take a while to resolve. Energize yourself to be in it for the long haul.
IT’S GO TIME! You’re ready to have that difficult conversation. As you proceed, either in person or via texts/emails (and likely both), keep some things in mind:
- Your first priority: To understand the teacher’s perspective. The best advice in any difficult situation is to go in with some curiosity, open to possibilities. You know there’s a problem, of course, but you don’t know everything about this problem. Don’t decide you know what it is going on and then only look for evidence that confirms your ideas. Instead, ask questions—maybe even a lot of questions—before you start giving your side. This pairs nicely with “assuming best intentions.”
- Keep the conversation action oriented, not “let’s-agree-on-who-to-blame” oriented. In any difficult conversation, you can get lost in trying to prove you’re right and the other person is wrong. Because people don’t like being wrong, everyone gets defensive (including you) and pretty soon you’re arguing instead of solving the problem. Instead, focus on the issue at hand and how each person involved can lead to a solution. After you’ve discussed the problem, say, “At home, I think we’ll try ________ to help this situation. Does that seem reasonable? What do you think would work at school?”
- Don’t take it personally. This one is hard! If it seems like the teacher keeps piling on the blame and naming what your kid is doing wrong, remember this teacher doesn’t know your child as well as you do. Let those opinions roll off your back and work on getting to the solution. At the same time, while you know your child best, be open to the fact that your child may act differently at school than at home, and the teacher may have insights you don’t. Parenting is a great lesson in humility.
- Some constraints are fixed and some are not. As you look for a solution, remember that some solutions are just not possible. But that list is shorter than the teacher may think, at first. For example, if your child is struggling under the load of homework from the school, the teacher can’t say, “Ah, forget it. We just won’t have homework.” But they can lessen the load or modify it or create an alternative. Push yourself to be creative and don’t take the first “no.”
- Be kind, polite, and relentless. You are doing this to help your child get the education they need and deserve. It’s worth it.
PHEW! THE CONVERSATION IS OVER!
Don’t forget to say thank you. Best case scenario, the conversation went great and you all left inspired to tackle the problem. It’s easy to say “thank you,” right? But, worst case scenario, there was a shouting match and you left the school afraid that the teacher might take their anger out on your child. Be an adult and still send a quick message along the lines of, “I’m sorry the conversation didn’t turn out the way I hoped. Thanks for be willing to work on this problem. Let’s try again next week when we can both have some time to consider other options.”
Ready to start that difficult conversation? Use these free text or email templates to get the conversation started.
QUESTION: Is your child facing a challenge in their educational experience? You may have to gently probe since some kids are hesitant to divulge such information.
CHALLENGE: Identify the issue and ways you can support and advocate for your child.
Come up with an action plan for communicating with your child’s teacher. Follow the above suggestions as you make contact.