School is calling and it’s not the phone call you want to get

January 10th, 2012

The phone rings, it’s your child’s teacher calling from school to let you know they think something is going on with your child. They are acting out in class, they got in an argument with their friends during recess, they did something inappropriate, their grades are dramatically slipping, or perhaps they were crying in class. Your child’s teacher is concerned, and so are you!

As a parent one of the most worrisome calls to get is the one from your child’s school. Your mind begins to race, you want more information, you want to make sense of what happened, and you want to know “why”? Before you become reactive or overly concerned there are some important steps you can take to best help your child.

7 steps you can take to best support your child after you get the dreaded phone call from your child’s school:

1.    Stay calm- Being reactive and blaming will not help the situation and will likely close down communication. If you need to process the information and you feel like you are going to become upset, ask the school staff if you can call them back in 15 minutes. Take time to process the information, go for a brief walk, take a few deep breaths, or splash cold water on your face. If you are upset and need to vent, do so with a loved one, friend, or therapist. Explain that you need to talk and ask them to just listen.

2.   Find out the facts- Talk with the staff who witnessed the behaviors or problem. What happened before the situation, who was there, do you know what was said or done, is this a one time occurrence or has this happened before, did something out of the ordinary happen prior to the situation, what did my child say or do, and how was it resolved? Be neutral and try to find out the specifics of what happened.

3.      Ask the school what support they have in place to help with this problem- Find out if the school has resources to help or other professionals they recommend to support your child. If necessary, setup a meeting with your child’s school staff, including teachers, counselors, resource staff, and principal.

4.      Listen to your child- If an incident is upsetting or you cannot comprehend your child’s behaviors (like they failed 4 tests or they hit another child) it is easy to become reactive and angry when you talk with your child. If that’s the case your child may become withdrawn, may hide the truth, or they may become reactive and blaming. Calmly ask your child to explain what happened and that you will listen as they explain without interruption. After they are done sharing their version (and you have listened for 2-3 minutes without interruption) then ask clarification questions.

5.     Deal with the “I dunnos”- Adult translation: “I don’t know” or “I know, but I don’t want to tell you because I’m embarrassed, ashamed, or know you’ll be angry or disappointed or I’ll be in big trouble”. This one may push all of your parenting buttons, because you want to understand what happened and why, so you can sort of if your child needs more support and/or what are the consequences for their behaviors.  When asking clarifying questions many children shutdown when you ask “why”. Instead of asking “why”, ask questions such as “tell me more”, “then what happened”, “how did that feel”, “help me understand”?

6.      Sort it out- Is it a one-time situation, does this behavior happen with your child in other settings? Does your child need some tools to manage their behaviors and feelings? Is there something else going on and you need some professional support? Do they need an academic evaluation, is there a need for a visit to the pediatrician or therapist, is this normal?  What often appears to be bad behaviors, such as acting out, poor grades, or shutting down, may be issues with processing, comprehension, organization, impulsivity, anxiety, depression, or anger. A professional can give you a more clear picture of what’s going on with your child and can teach you child tools and techniques to manage their behaviors and emotions, and collaborate with educational staff and tutors (often without the need for medications).

7.     What are the consequences- All behaviors have consequences. Some are natural, such as failing a test when your child refuses to study. Some are consequences parent’s choose, such as no electronics for a week. Take time to consider the consequences for your child’s behaviors. Perhaps the school has implemented a consequence of no recess and that is enough of a consequence to help your child understand the effect of his/her behaviors. Be aware that using punishments for a child who is struggling with learning disabilities or emotional disabilities may amply negative behaviors and be emotionally harming. Again, if you are unsure if the behaviors are normal, consult a professional for an assessment and more support.

If your child goes to school in the Sarasota, Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch, or Venice area and they are experiencing problems at school, we can help.

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