Tips for a Successful Parent-Teacher Conference

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The time is upon us for fall conferences for our kiddos. As parents, we always see our children in the best possible light and we SHOULD! They are our babies. It can sometimes be uncomfortable to listen to feedback that is less than raving about our children, but we do a disservice to their education and their character building when we are not open to this.  Here are five helpful hints to have a positive experience at conferences.

1. Listen

The first skill to remember is to listen.  Teachers do not enjoy the uncomfortable conversations any more than you do. If they are addressing a concern, remember to listen. Your child may certainly be an angel (definitely he or she will always be your angel), but that does not make him or her free from bad decisions or difficulties. Do not try to think up ways to defend your child. Just listen to the teacher’s perspective, chances are this will serve as some insight into your child and his or her struggles or strengths at school.  

I still remember when my daughter’s preschool teacher told me that my daughter seemed to be easily upset when other children didn’t follow the rules. At first, it seemed laughable, she certainly wasn’t a perfectionist at home with her own behavior. Instead of reacting, I listened, and I then responded with, “Thanks for sharing what you see. We haven’t seen that at home yet.”  She seemed relieved that we weren’t seeing the tension in our daughter, and I filed it away as useful information. Of course, six months later, and I started to see EXACTLY what her teacher had been seeing…a little bit of perfectionist anxiety. Since I knew that her teacher had also seen this before, and I hadn’t dismissed her or become defensive, not only was I prepared, but I also had someone to discuss my concerns with later. 

2. Discuss observations

When discussing your child and his or her behavior or performance, try to take the emotions out of it and purely discuss what you see. This may seem like common sense, but it can be difficult to talk about the apple of your eye without tearing up because he or she is taking three hours to complete homework each night. When you discuss your observations instead of blaming the teacher or becoming emotionally overcharged, everyone benefits, and ultimately, you and the teacher can come up with a game plan. Remember, your child’s teacher is a trained professional educator. If you share what you are seeing, he or she can help you! They have prepared for moments just like these! 

There are always things I want to bring up to the teacher, it seems. When I have the venue, I try to phrase things in a very direct, yet kind, manner. If I am worried about a situation that my child has brought up at home, I simply recount the story that came home. I always explain that this is what my child told me at home, and I wasn’t sure what other information may have been missing from her account, and then I ask for clarification. When speaking directly about observations, we are both on the same team and it takes the blame game out of the equation.

3.  Come prepared

One way to remove the emotional overcharge is to be prepared. This is two-fold. On one hand, be sure that you are familiar with the communication methods of your teacher. Does he use Seesaw? Have you been checking it? Does she use a notebook in her class instead of sending papers home in a folder? If so, be sure you know these things to avoid embarrassing and uncomfortable conversations when you discover that you forgot you were supposed to check something at home weekly.

If you have questions or concerns, write them down. This will prevent you from becoming flustered in the moment. It also helps you to remember what you want to address and stick to the plan. The amount of time for conferences is short, and it is best served if you know what you would like to discuss (if there are concerns.)  

I like to jot down a list of items either in the “notes” section of my phone or on pretty paper in my planner. I keep this out when the teacher is talking and mark things off as they are brought up. Usually, the teacher has many of the same talking points, and this eliminates me from jumping in constantly and interrupting. Once the teacher is finished, and I review my notes, I bring any items up that were on my list of concerns that were not previously addressed.

4. Hold your child accountable

Remember, as your child gets older, your child’s work is your child’s responsibility. If you discover that something is amiss and your child hasn’t been holding up his or her end of the bargain, hold him or her accountable. Sometimes, there are consequences. Sometimes, there is an opportunity for a plan. Sometimes, some coaching is warranted. Whatever it is, remember that you are responsible for making your child become responsible. 

Keep your child’s age and needs in mind. Obviously, if your son is six, and he keeps forgetting something, you may need to help guide him to make something a habit. Likewise, if your child has any special needs to consider, do. You want your expectations to be reasonable and appropriate.  This includes making sure your child is not taking advantage of a situation. Be sure you coach your child into making good habits and routines. Have a special place and time for homework. Make it a routine. If there is no homework, be sure to have a plan of what is supposed to be done in its place (might I suggest reading).  This way, the healthy habits of being productive and responsible are instilled at a young age and become internalized before the workload becomes unbearable. 

5. Perspective

Remember to keep some perspective.  If your child is struggling with understanding something, help him or her, but don’t get all bent out of shape. Children’s focus and attention ebbs and flows. If the teacher tells you that she or he thinks your child would benefit from after school study sessions, great! This does NOT mean that your child will not be successful in life. 

Take it all in stride, Mama, and as I am reminded from Pete the Cat, by Eric Litwin “Did Pete cry? Goodness no! He just kept walking along and singing his song because everything is groovy!” Don’t panic! Your child will make mistakes. Everything is not a direct reflection of you and your parenting, so don’t take it all so personal. Do your best. Ask for help. Tomorrow is another day.  Children are resilient. You can do this!! And when you do it, #BEKIND.

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Erica
Erica is an Omaha transplant from Northern California and has lived in Omaha off and on since 1993. She is mom to two wonderful children who fill her with love and joy. Because her husband’s career requires him being gone for long stretches of time, she has learned to streamline being a career mama while flying solo for months at a time. Her middle school reading students add some excitement to her days, and her kids keep the humor going strong into the evenings. Erica also manages to have a Mary Kay business in her "free time". She has many tips for traveling with small children as well, since she travels internationally with the kiddos at least once a year. She enjoys reading, and belongs to the best book club ever; being active; and sharing an occasional cup of coffee or wine with friends. You'll find her out and about on weekends and evenings embracing every drop of motherhood.