Even the most well-behaved kids sometimes get in trouble at school. Whether your kid is five or 15, what do you do when you learn that your child did something wrong in school? How do you, as a parent, handle the situation and discuss it with a defiant child? Or a quiet, shy child? Or a remorseful child?
Three education and child behavior experts explain what parents can do next after learning their child got into some trouble in school.
Respect the educators who reached out to you about your child’s actions
“At all levels of education, parents should be respectful to the school personnel reaching out regarding a child's misbehavior,” says Collen Wildenhaus, a mom, teacher, and parenting blogger. “Often, parents want to jump to their child's defense without hearing all sides of the situation.”
No matter how old your child is when you hear about “the incident”, Wildenhaus advises you take these steps in this order:
- First, listen to what the school has to say regarding the incident, assuring them that you will talk with your child.
- Next, listen to your child with an open mind as well. “Hear what they have to say.”
- If your child is immediately defensive, no matter the relationship the parent has with their child, or the parent's feelings about the incident, “the parent must approach the discussion with their child in a calm, non-accusatory manner,” says Wildenhaus. “Allow your child to share their story of what took place without your input. If a parent begins by accusing a child, a child will be more likely to become defensive.”
- Finally, create a plan to remedy the situation, whether that is an apology to another student or school staff member, cleaning or repairing the damage that was done during the misbehavior, or re-doing an assignment or project.
According to Wildenhaus, if these behaviors are ongoing, setting up a meeting with the school, and your child (depending on his or her age) is important, so you, the parent, can find the root cause of these misbehaviors. “If the school is enforcing a consequence for the misbehavior, it is not necessary to provide a second consequence at home.”
Can a discipline problem be chalked up to early school jitters? Find out here.
Now, how to move forward with your child so you’re not angry with each other, and they’ll curb their behavior? “Talk often with your child about their school day, gaining an understanding of their peers, their attitude towards academics, and other key details about their day,” advises Wildenhaus. “The handling of misbehaviors from parents is relatively consistent among grade levels. However, the causes and consequences of misbehaviors will vary based on age.”
Problem solve together
“When there is a problem in the classroom, your child is probably feeling a lot of emotion about the situation,” explains Becky Ward, a certified K-12 teacher and the Tutor Experience Coordinator for Tutor Doctor. “It can be difficult to keep your own emotion out of the situation, but remember, the teacher has your child’s best interests at heart and wants to work with you and your child to find a solution.”
Your child, their teacher, and you are all part of your child’s educational team. “So, work with your child and their teacher to develop a plan to solve the problem.”
According to Ward, these are the best tips for tackling the situation with your child as a team:
Ask your child what they feel are possible solutions to empower them to take an active role in problem solving. “You can role-play possible scenarios with your child to help them feel more confident in their ability to handle the situation and work through the problem.”
Remember: The teacher can help your child implement these solutions in the classroom and can step in if your child needs support. “Keep communication open with your child and their teacher to help everyone stay on the same page and ensure that your solutions are effective.”
Solidify your relationship with the teacher
Want to connect with your child’s teacher so you two feel comfortable with each other when it comes to discussing your child? Of course. But how?
According to Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills, CA-based family and relationship psychotherapist, kids need to have a solidly good relationship with at least one (optimally two) friend, and her/his teacher, in that order.
“The younger the child, the more important the relationship is with their teacher. The reason is to help the child with the ongoing separation process that continues beyond preschool and into kindergarten and the early elementary grades.” As your child matures, they need to be prepared for middle and high school, college, and adult life which involves requirement to relate to superior authority figures “whether we like them or not. We've all had high school teachers whom we couldn't stand; we simply don't get to choose and are forced to get along with the teacher we are assigned to.” Your child may not ‘like’ Mrs. Froggie, but has to respect the teacher’s classroom rules, which, as they move into the next grade, gradually prepares them for the ‘Real World,’ where adults interact with all sorts of personalities.
That said, “parents must be very careful. The latest word I hear from teachers is that parents’ expectations are currently too high. They can't bear their child experience any sort of slight or disappointment.” (If Johnny, for instance, is not chosen as "Student of the Week," the teacher is called with a complaint and put ‘on the spot with a demand for an explanation.) “It’s crucial that parents maintain and nourish a positive relationship with teachers as well as children,” says Dr. Walfish. “Don't be a pain in the neck to your child's teacher and risk your child taking the brunt of it.” Or worse, don't become a lawnmower parent.
Overall, says Dr. Walfish, “At the beginning of the year, ask the teacher their preferred way of communication. Find out the proper protocol. Do not report your child's teacher to the Dean or Principal. Give the teacher the courtesy of straight, open, honest communication first.”
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