Tips for Surviving Parent-Teacher Conferences

Four times a year, elementary school teachers nationwide invite doting parents into their classrooms for little afternoon chit-chat sessions, otherwise known as “Parent Teacher Conferences” (PTCs). Now, I realize most parents probably look forward to these talks; after all, what mother doesn’t like to hear how amazing her child is? (If that last thought resonates well with you, no need to continue reading this article). But what about the parents with the children who are less than… perfect? How do they feel about PTCs?

I will respect my teacher.

I will not talk in class.

I will walk in the hallways.

I will share with my friends.

As the mother of a so-called “naughty” six-year-old boy, I can tell you firsthand how anxiety-ridden these sessions make me. My son is no different than many Kindergarten boys; he struggles to sit still for more than one minute at a time, has never ending amounts of energy, and thinks that tackling his classmates is a form of endearment. However, my son also likes to be the class clown, hollering “adios amigos” to his peers every time he steps out to use the restroom; lies down in the middle of the hallway to block anyone who tries to pass by; “walks” his lunchbox back to the classroom by its shoulder strap pretending it’s a puppy; rips his science project (an innocent little earthworm) in half so that he and his lab partner wouldn’t have to engage in that dreadful act we call sharing. When PTCs are announced, I get more nervous for them than my son does, hands down.

And here's the thing; everything the teacher is about to tell me are things I already know. With “he did what?” incredulous looks, never ending head nods, and desperate glances at my feet, I somehow make it through, promising his teacher (yet again) that we are a working with him at home, and that as a united front, we can effectively make him a better student by year’s end.

If PTCs have you feeling the same, this article is written for you. Keep these points in mind to calm your nerves and to serve as positive reminders for both you and your child’s teacher going forward. And when all else fails, remember to laugh.

Tips for Surviving Parent-Teacher Conference (when you have the naughty child)

Channel Energy

All children have different temperament levels. In fact, some start kicking their way through life when they are still in utero and never seem to stop! Understanding your child’s temperament will help you channel their energy into the proper creative outlets. For my son, that outlet is football. We are constantly reminding him to ‘save it for the field.’ Intervening early to curb distracting behavior before it gets out of hand is key to successfully managing it in the classroom. Additionally, when our son was in preschool, his teachers used a code word that only he and us knew (we let him ‘falcon’ it was), which signaled to him that he was getting rowdy and needed to take a break, without letting all of the other children know.  

Highly active kids who can’t seem to sit still… ever... are not bad kids. They just need positive outlets for channeling their energy. Understanding where your child falls on the temperament scale is the first step in determining how to best handle their behavior with their teacher.  


Positive Reinforcements

You can’t yell at your child for everything, right? Just as you pick your battles at home, your child’s teacher is likely picking their battles with their students. Just because Kenzi can sit still and read for 30+ minutes doesn’t mean that Keylen can do the same. While a standardized set of rules is necessary for a functioning and safe classroom, rewards and punishments should be somewhat flexible to suit each child’s temperament. Nobody knows your child better than you, so work together with your teacher to figure out what motivates and inspires your child versus what appropriate consequences are for misbehavior. To consistently punish without ever rewarding may be sending the wrong message. Sometimes it really is as simple as ignoring the bad behavior and positively encouraging the good.

I have a close relationship with my son’s Kindergarten teacher and we try to keep consistent rewards and punishments across home and school boundaries. When we work together to discuss positive reinforcements, it is beneficial for all involved.    


Think Outside the Box

Keylen during a Kindergarten party at school

Is your child constantly asking why or refusing to take ‘no’ as the final word? Does he challenge everything you say or find unorthodox ways to solve problems? Is he very intelligent but has less than stellar grades? It may seem counterintuitive, but keep in mind that doing well in school isn’t necessarily the most important thing in life. While poor grades may seem frustrating at times, having ‘outside the box’ talents are actually excellent life skills.

Many great scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs were not great students but excelled later in life. When your child feels the constant need to challenge the way things are currently done, continually searches for answers to questions, and is constantly negotiating or refusing to take no for an answer, you may just have a future CEO or scientist on your hands. Inquisitive minds should be nurtured rather than shut down. Talk to your child’s teacher about challenging courses or clubs that your school offers. Creative students may find positive self-expression in art, music, or dance, while others may find competitive outlets in sports or debate. Applaud, rather than stifle, strategic thinking and questioning.


Keep Things Visible

Ambiguity doesn’t work well with kids. They need to see things to believe them. This is why behavior charts, stickers, certificates, etc. are so widely used in grade school. For my son in particular, he needs to see the results of his hard work. When we started potty training at age two, he did best when results were tracked and he could physically see the smiley face stickers adding up day after day. Presently, whether we track chores, proper behavior, or good grades, he always does best when he can see the progress.

At conferences, talk to your teacher about the methods that are used to track positive behavior in the classroom. My son’s teacher sometimes just writes “great day today” on a post-it note that he can bring home; the smallest gestures can mean the most to kids, and can really make a difference in their behavior.


Be a Constant Presence

Do not view your child’s teacher as your enemy, but rather your ally. No matter how difficult your child is, or how painful conferences can be, or how anxious they make you… be accessible to your child’s teacher. When the teacher can see that you have a vested interest in making sure your child behaves and learns while at school, it makes their lives (and yours) much easier. Keep lines of communication casual and open. Let her know that you are open to both positive and negative feedback and that you would like to work together as a team to ensure your child has a great experience at school. Be your teacher’s biggest fan and your child’s biggest cheerleader.

I receive weekly emails from my son’s Kindergarten teacher which let me know what areas we need to work on, what he is excelling at, what methods of discipline seem to be working best, etc. Because we speak on such a regular basis, conferences are suddenly a lot less scary (...and this is coming from the mom who has dreaded them since her child was in diapers).

.... and because time is limited and summaries are helpful:


Here is Your 10-Step Action Plan

1. Positivity trumps negativity. Focus on what your child is doing right first and foremost, followed by teachable moments.

2. Teach your child that being unique and different are positive traits.

3. Resist the urge to compare your child to his/her classmates.

4. Look beyond a letter grade to gauge your child’s intelligence or rank within the classroom.

5. Be a collaborator with your child’s teacher and leave the defensiveness at home.

6. Help your teacher appreciate what makes your kid unique and clue them in as to how they operate.

7. Be open and real when you communicate and be willing to share both positive and negative feedback in order to form a united front.

8. Collaborate with your teachers on how to best nurture your child’s strengths and channel their energy, while still providing an environment that keeps them safe.

9. Keep track of positive behavior and accomplishments both inside and out of the classroom, and chart it in a visible way.

10. Be your teacher’s ally and your child’s biggest fan.