Every parent has been there. Your child came home upset about something that happened at recess or on the bus. School stress is piling up and you think your teen is getting overwhelmed. Or you got a call or email from your son or daughter’s teacher about a behavioral concern. Now what?
Communication with your child’s teacher and school staff is key. But no matter who is starting the conversation, it can sometimes be difficult to talk with teachers about the child you know (and love) better than anyone. When faced with kids’ emotional and behavioral challenges, it’s important to remember that you and your child’s teachers have the same goal – that your child is safe and can learn.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when talking with teachers and other school staff about your child’s behavioral health:
Assume positive intent
As parents, sometimes our first reaction when we hear our kids have behavioral challenges is to defend them. Remember that you and the teacher share the same goal — your child’s success — and take time to listen and take a step back. If your child comes home with a story about a conflict with another student or a teacher, think about getting the teacher’s point of view before coming to a conclusion.
Find out what resources are available
In addition to in-class support, many schools have extra resources available for kids who might be struggling with behaviors or completing schoolwork. For example, a “check in-check out” program helps kids set goals in the beginning of each school day and check back at the end of the day to process how things went. Other schools offer small groups, often facilitated by school social workers or psychologists, addressing issues like anxiety, social skills or family changes. If there’s not a group designed for an issue your child or others are facing, ask for one.
Seek mental health services when needed
Although schools provide interventions and supports, ranging from behavioral plans to mentoring programs, most do not provide therapy. If you are concerned that your child is depressed, anxious or may be thinking about self-harm, contact your child’s pediatrician or a mental health provider immediately.
Take a team approach
Your child will be more successful when they know that parents, teachers and school staff are working together to support them. Understanding your child’s goals at school can help you reinforce them at home. For example, if a child is successful with their daily behavioral goals, you can offer an additional reward at home. If a child is struggling with a diagnosed health issue such as depression, school staff can work with your family to temporarily reduce homework amounts or make other accommodations until the health issue has been controlled.
Help your child stay positive
Ask your child what three things they are looking forward to in their school day, rather than focusing on what they’re dreading. For older kids, requiring that they participate in one extracurricular activity can help motivate them to get involved.
Identify a go-to person
Especially in middle or high school, when kids have multiple teachers, work with your teen to identify a trusted adult at school they can talk to. This may be a social worker, guidance counselor, teacher or even an administrator.
Know when to take it to the next level
If you feel your child needs more help than what the classroom can provide, contact the school psychologist or social worker. They can determine if more intensive supports might be appropriate, such as a 504 Plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP). These are legal documents that are created by school staff and parents to formalize interventions and accommodations to address special needs, and it is any parent’s right to request evaluation for one.
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has a vision that Wisconsin kids will be the healthiest in the nation.
Supporting kids’ and teens’ mental and behavioral health is a key part of achieving that vision. We are committed to programs and services that help build resilience, promote mental health and support families.
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is a proud supporter of Gannett Wisconsin’s Kids in Crisis series in support of these commitments.
– Jennifer Scott, LCSW, psychotherapist, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
In addition to providing clinical care at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Jennifer works at Milwaukee Public Schools’ Pierce Elementary, providing mental and behavioral health services as part of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin’s work with the School Community Partnership for Mental Health.
Learn more about Jennifer Scott, LCSW