A big frustration for preschool teachers is having that child in the class that demonstrates a behavior that is challenging and disruptive. You have tried everything to get the child to cooperate so the next step is to contact the parents. The director hopes that it won’t come down to having to remove the child from the school so she keeps her fingers crossed that the parents will be open enough to help with the situation.
Approaching the parents of the child can be the real challenge. You may worry about whether they will be receptive to the problem or will they get defensive? Will they take the stance that they don’t know what to do or that their child couldn't possibly be behaving this way? Having worked with both schools and parents for many years, let me offer five tips for partnering with parents in resolving in-school behavior issues.
BEFORE CONTACTING THE PARENTS. A child in your classroom who is demonstrating challenging behavior can be incredibly frustrating. Before reaching out to the parents to turn this problem over to them, be sure that you've taken care of your responsibility first. Has the child’s teacher received adequate training to handle the problem in her classroom? Have you considered seeking out a behavior analyst to observe and assess the situation? Not all challenging behaviors start at home. Because children are affected by adult emotional chaos, some behavior situations can be caused by the teacher herself. Is she handling her classroom well and is she entering the classroom in a peaceful and emotionally balanced state?
PARTNER WITHOUT JUDGEMENT. Put your fears andpreconceived ideas aside in order to create an atmosphere of openness and acceptance. You may have information about the parents and their lifestyle, but it’s best to prepare for the conversation with an open mind and without assuming how they will react or what they will say. Remember, you receive what you put forth. Assuming you will receive the best in parents is more likely to make it happen.
CLEARLY DEFINE THE PROBLEM. As the teacher or director, you are the professional and usually have more knowledge on child development than the parents do. Therefore it’s important that you clearly define the problem you’re having with the child in the classroom and put it in terms the parents will be able to understand. While the child may be disruptive and uncooperative in your classroom, do your best to see the child’s behavior for what it is. According to many child psychologists, a child’s challenging behavior is often indications of an unmet need such as attention or power. It could also be that the child is just too immature and not yet ready for the classroom situation. Consult a behavior specialist if one is available to you before assessing the problem you’re having with the child.
GIVE THE PARENTS HOMEWORK. Do not assume that you can just tell the parent about the problem you’re experiencing and expect them to know what to do. Think about the behavior challenge and help your parents understand what similar behavior to look for at home. Give them specific actions or discipline measures to take at home, especially if they experience the same behavior challenges that are being seen in the classroom. When children see the same discipline measures in the home as well as the classroom, they are more likely to become cooperative a lot quicker.
SCHEDULE A FORMAL MEETING. Once the parents have had an opportunity to look for the challenging behaviors at home and/or to try out suggestions from you, schedule a formal meeting with them including the teaching staff and the director. Invite discussion about their findings and progress at home. Treating the parents as members of your team and keeping a positive attitude about the initiatives of this group will avoid having the discussion turn into an uncomfortable conflict.
SEND PROGRESS REPORTS. If the parents are cooperative and everyone has agreed to work together, send home progress reports about your observations of the child’s behavior in the classroom and invite parents to do the same. Stay engaged with the parents and thank them for their cooperation. Be sure that your approach with them is kind, supportive and encouraging.
WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS. If you've done all that you can and either the parents are uncooperative or the child’s behavior is not changing, you may be forced with having to ask the parents to remove their child from the school. As uncomfortable as this might be, it is always best to communicate this to the parents in person and not through email or letter. Be sensitive to the parents’ position and avoid becoming defensive of yours. Determine the length of time that should elapse before the child will be allowed to re-enroll in the school and help the parents focus on that date. Consider sharing the information regarding this incident with other teachers to help educate them on best practices in their classrooms.
Bill Corbett is the author of the award winning book series “Love, Limits, & Lessons: AParent’s Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids” in English and in Spanish, and the founder and president of Cooperative Kids. He has three grown children, three step children, two grandchildren, and lives with his wife Elizabeth and teen step daughter Olivia near Hartford, CT. You can visit his Web site www.CooperativeKids.com for further information and parenting advice.