Teachers often ask for suggestions regarding speaking with parents about a child’s challenging behavior. They state they do not feel well received when they try to do this. Teachers indicate they frequently hear a version of this response from parents, “You are picking on my child/ You do not like my child.” I respond with, “Tell me what you have done prior to this interaction to build a relationship with the parents."
The first interaction a teacher has with a parent should be a time when she discusses the positive aspects of the child. This should be a time to build a rapport with the family and let the parent know she is there for the child and is on his side. If the first time a parent hears from the child’s teacher it is to discuss “misbehavior”, then it is not surprising when the parent becomes defensive. On the other hand, if there have been multiple conversations in which the teacher has demonstrated her appreciation of the child’s abilities, efforts, personality, etc… prior to the discussion of behavior, then the parent is more apt to approach the discussion in a receptive manner.
Another inquiry I make to the teacher is about the words she uses to discuss the challenging behaviors with the parent. It is not uncommon to hear words such as tantrum, melt-down, mean, bully, difficult, etc… Not only are these terms subjective, they possess a great deal of judgment. A less subjective way to discuss the behaviors are to state exactly what took place. Rather than saying, “Joe has tantrums when he does not get his way” say, “Today during center time Joe chose to go to the block area. When the other children in that area said they were using the blocks, in a loud voice Joe said “no” and then with two open hands pushed one other child on the arm. As a result of this, the other child fell to the ground.” The word “tantrum” can mean different things to different people. On the other hand, if the behavior is discussed using objective, observable terms, then everyone has a better picture of the actions. Once everyone involved has a clear understanding of the behaviors then a discussion concerning ways to support the child can begin.
These two, fairly simple suggestions can have powerfully positive impact on discussions regarding challenging behaviors.