It’s that time again. Parent-teacher conferences are being scheduled across the country. Teachers have had enough time to determine where our kids are struggling, and in what areas they shine. At home, the honeymoon of excitement for the new school year has waned. Expectations are high. Emotions are shaky. And somehow, we have to squeeze all of this into 15 to 20 minutes of conversation. Here’s how to make the most of this year’s parent-teacher conference.
“Making the decision to have a child—it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” —Elizabeth Stone
We are our children’s biggest fan, which is as it should be. But it can get in the way when we encounter any criticism about our child, even constructive criticism meant to help us find solutions for our children. It puts us on the defense. We feel as though we, ourselves, have been insulted. Have you ever experienced this?
Set Yourself Up for Success
Parent-teacher conferences can quickly spiral into an emotional struggle rather than remain the strategy session they are meant to be. Here are a few tips to help set yourself up for a successful experience, sans tears.
Before the conference, take these steps:
Talk to your child. Find out what areas your child struggles most with, and what areas she likes best. Take some time to learn whether your child has any concerns she would like you to talk with her teacher about.
Some questions you could ask her: What is the hardest part of school for you? What do you like best? What subject do you struggle with? What subject is your favorite? Is there anything that you worry about at school? How do you get along with your classmates? Is there anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable?
Talk to your spouse. Even if you handle most school happenings, your spouse holds a unique perspective on your child that might help illuminate a problem you’ve been pondering. Talking with your spouse beforehand will help to keep you both on the same page. Find out whether your spouse has any specific concerns or comments, even if you both plan to attend.
Make a list. Have you ever gone into a doctor appointment ready to ask a few key questions that have been on your mind, only to completely forget them after getting wrapped up in an unrelated conversation? The same thing happens in parent-teacher conferences. The teacher starts telling us about our child, and we forget the most important part of the whole meeting. To avoid this all-too-common scenario, take some time before the conference to jot down a list of questions. (And remember to pull them out once you sit down to meet.)
Arrive early. Give yourself plenty of time so that your mind is in a calm state before going into the conference. The last thing you want is to feel out of sorts before you even walk through the door. Take a few deep breaths beforehand to keep your prefrontal cortex, the “smart part” of your brain, ready to go. You’ll be more prepared to problem solve and less likely to get wrapped up in emotions or forget your agenda.
During the conference, take these steps:
- Listen. We tend to get so caught up in thinking about what we want to say during a conversation that we fail to actually listen to what the other person is saying. Your teacher is sharing valuable information about your child. Listen to what she says. You will get your chance to bring up your own concerns, and you’ll have your list ready when you do.
- Keep an open mind. Your teacher spends hours upon hours with your child and, just like you, wants the best for him. You are both on the same team. Consider how you can come together to each support your child so that he can reach his goals this year. This simple perspective shift can make a big difference in how you both approach any issues he may be facing.
- Create a connection. Ask your child’s teacher what form of communication with you they prefer: email, phone calls, or in-person meetings. Establishing a means for future communication that respects the teacher’s preferences will help you to reach out when the need arises.
- Breathe. If you feel your blood pressure rise or tears begin to form, stop for a moment to breathe. It’s okay to take a pause right there in the middle of the conference. Remember step number two: You and your child’s teacher are on the same team. The struggles your child faces will feel like YOUR struggles. Take a moment to create space for the surge of emotion, and then let it pass. The smart part of your brain will then be ready to find solutions for your child.
After the conference:
- Talk with your child about the positive qualities, behaviors and achievements her teacher discussed and how she can continue them.
- Next, talk about what ways your child can work toward her goals. Create specific steps can she take to address her challenges. “Get better grades in math,” is an outcome-oriented goal that can feel too abstract for your child. “Work on math problems with mom for 15 minutes every afternoon,” and “Spend 30 minutes with a math tutor every week,” are tangible, process-oriented steps that your child can envision and act on.
I love working with children because there is still so much potential in them. Their brains are growing and changing on a daily basis. Struggles will inevitably arise, but you know what? With the right resources and support, your child can thrive. I hope this year brings out the best in you and your child(ren).
and the Mindful Life Team