Have you gotten “the call” from your child’s school? Janet Lehman, MSW talks frankly about how she and her husband James handled things when their son had trouble at school.

During our son’s third-grade year, we received a phone call from his teacher saying that she was concerned about our child’s chances of passing that year.

I was shocked, angry, and anxious. And I was embarrassed, both as a mother and as a social worker who should have known what was going on.

I immediately took the stance of viewing myself as the victim in the situation. Looking back, I realize that I had instantly made my son’s problems all about me.

It’s not about you. It’s about your child, and what is best for him. As much as you can, put personal feelings aside and focus on your child.

I was upset at the school, the teacher, and the administrators. My husband, James, seemed to be taking it better. He finally said to me, “Look, it isn’t about you. It’s about our son and his odds of succeeding.”

What could I say? I knew he was right. I began to feel better and we sat and talked about what we were going to do about our child’s school problem.

We knew we needed to plan out how we were going to present ourselves at the meeting with his teachers. James and I decided that we wanted to be in partnership with the school as much as possible because this would give our child the best chance of getting through the year and moving on to fourth grade.

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As hard as it was, I knew I needed to put all of my personal feelings aside and focus on what was best for our son.

This brings me to my first tip for parents when their child is having trouble at school:

1. It’s Not About You—It’s About Your Child

It’s not about you—it’s about your child and what is best for him. As much as you can, put personal feelings aside and focus on your child.

James reminded me again before we went into our meeting: “It’s not about us. It’s not about how we feel about the teacher. It’s about our son.”

And then he said, “To be honest, our kid can be a bit of a pain in the neck sometimes and the teacher has 30 other students she needs to deal with. Let’s try to find a way to work with her.”

We went to the meeting and presented ourselves as wanting to work with the school instead of against the school. We weren’t blaming the school. Rather, we were trying to be realistic about our son—both his behavior and his needs.

And even though at first I was angry at the school for not noticing our son’s issues sooner, I was grateful to his third-grade teacher for noticing what was going on. Up until the third grade, our son had been able to use charm to get by in school. But charming wasn’t going to make it in the third grade, where they introduce more challenging content and a lot of new learning.

Fortunately, his teacher saw through his act and realized it was mostly a cover for some of his learning struggles.

This brings me to my second tip:

2. Make the School an Ally, Not an Adversary

Generally speaking, blaming the school or your child’s teacher won’t do any good. As much as is possible, work with school administrators and teachers. Partner with them instead of making an adversary out of them.

In my opinion, the only way to create success is to partner with the school. If you’re struggling to get along with your child’s teacher, find somebody else who you can create that relationship with.

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Identify someone in the school who you can work with—it could be a guidance counselor, a school social worker, a coach, or even the principal. This person will be able to advocate for your child more effectively than you can in some instances. This person might also be able to send you an email when they notice something or feel like your child needs some extra help. Be sure to communicate regularly with this person.

Our whole family worked especially hard during third grade: we put in a lot of time sending notes back and forth to our son’s teacher and keeping her abreast of his progress.

3. Work With Your Child at Home

James would sit with our son and do homework every night. He never did the work for him. Rather, he was just there to answer questions and give him help if he needed it.

I won’t lie—at first, it was a bit of a struggle. But as our son did more homework, his classroom performance improved, which then encouraged him to do more homework. He learned a valuable lesson: that success breeds success.

I think one of the key things our son realized was that his teacher and his parents were going to hold him responsible for his work. He couldn’t get out of it because everyone had joined together to make sure he succeeded and got through the year.

So again, the school was taking some responsibility to help him. But even more important, our son was gradually taking responsibility for himself and his schoolwork.

4. Make Your Child Responsible for His Schoolwork

Your child is responsible for his schoolwork. He needs to know this. He needs to know that he’s being held accountable by you and his teachers.

If your child has an issue with the work he’s doing, and you believe he is sincerely struggling with the work, talk to the teacher.

If the struggle persists even with the teacher’s help and your parental support, have him tested professionally to determine whether or not he has a learning disability.

We attended an evaluation meeting for him where testing was recommended. He had some tests done and it was discovered that he had a mild learning disability. As a result, the teachers arranged for some accommodations so he could do certain things differently.

5. Don’t Criticize the Teacher in Front of Your Child

We made sure to never criticize his teachers when our son was complaining about one he didn’t get along with. Joining your child in complaining only encourages your child to blame the teacher for his problems and to stop being accountable for his schoolwork.

Also, remember that you’re only going to hear the story from your child’s perspective. If he doesn’t like the teacher and you fuel that dislike, it’s only going to make it worse for your child who is in that classroom so many hours every day.

For the most part, we found our son’s teachers to be dedicated and supportive and our son liked them. Nevertheless, through the years our son did have some experiences with teachers he wasn’t particularly crazy about. But we didn’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. Rather, we thought that was an important life lesson for our son, for he wasn’t going to like everyone and not everyone was going to like him or treat him as fairly as everybody should be treated.

I think dealing with the teachers he didn’t like helped prepare him for the real world, where he’d have to work with people who might not be as understanding of his needs.

Again, the most important thing is to try to join with the teacher if possible so that your child becomes responsible and can’t deflect that responsibility to a “bad” or a “mean” teacher.

6. Recognize That Teachers Have a Difficult Job

It’s important to recognize that teachers have a difficult job. Teaching is hard, as is parenting. And teachers are generally grateful for the parents who are involved and help their child to learn.

The fact that James and I would take the time to write notes to the teacher and sit with our son and do homework was time well spent from the teacher’s point of view. That’s an investment, and teachers respect parental investments in their child’s learning.

Teachers also want to feel support from parents for what happens in the classroom. I’ve seen parents immediately take their child’s side and not take the time to get the full picture from the school staff or teachers. I believe it’s important to see the full picture. You may not like it when you get it, but at least you’ve taken the time to get the other side of the story.

James used to say, “Sometimes it’s easier to fight with the school than fight with your kid.” After all, you can walk away from the school and go home. It’s a lot harder to hold your child accountable and sit and do the work with him—especially if he is defiant or has other behavioral issues. But, in the long run, holding him responsible is the best thing for his future.

Conclusion

It’s intimidating to get that initial call from your child’s school. Sometimes it brings up feelings you had when you were a kid. Maybe you acted out a bit or had some struggles with learning yourself. Perhaps you didn’t feel smart enough or good enough.

Often, a parent’s first response, given their own experience, is to fight the system. And believe me, I had some of those feelings. Thank goodness for James. He was able to turn my thinking around, which enabled me to focus on my son instead of myself. It was a turning point for me as a parent and a social worker.

I believe that one of the keys to helping your child succeed in school is to have a lot more parental involvement. Your child may never realize how helpful some of the school folks have been. And your child may never appreciate the fact that you’ve sat there every night and helped them do their homework. But if you can see their success, you know you’ve done the right thing.

About

Janet Lehman, MSW, has worked with troubled children and teens for over 30 years. A veteran social worker, she specializes in child behavior issues — ranging from anger management and oppositional defiance to more serious criminal behavior in teens. She is co-creator of The Total Transformation® Program, The Complete Guide To Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™.

Comments (10)
  • Laurie
    I scored the graduation tests and proficiency test for about a decade. Third grade seems to be the year the kids struggle with the most. Maybe first year of testing jitters. I quit scoring the tests a year ago and instead started tutoring. If your childMore can't make the right connection in school, find a good tutor. The children I've tutored not only have all passed the tests, but have gone from failing to doing A work. I don't think anything can replace the one on one attention they get from a good tutor.
  • Dhafney Saunar
    In that situation it should be make a time to discuss about the behavioral of the child  ,doing at school  and you must set a question to your child so that you can heard his or her opinion so you can solve the problem in school. And it should beMore guided to the teacher's,guidance counselor,or principal.You must check his or her doing at school if you're child performance is Good or bad. Remind your child that the education is important because education is the key to success in his or her life.You should regular check your child if he is really doing his or her assignment and if your child reviewing if there is coming quiz, seat works, or exam. Encourage your child to study well and shows a Good behavioral being that motivates your child to be cooperate to the teacher in school when it comes in recitation.
  • nivedita vedaang
    We should make a proper time table for the child and spend some time with him when he is doing his daily assignments.Rather than blaming the school we should work upon the problem and discuss with school and teachers.We should make a regular habit of visiting school after every monthMore to about the progress and the ways for improvement in our child.
  • JamesAndEthansMom

    I am taking our second grader to the psychiatrist today. School has been agony from day one. Little problems have now become huge problems. They had to evacuate a classroom last week, he threw a huge fit, tipped ALL the tables over, threw art supplies, pencils, rulers, garbage and recycling bins. He says he got angry because a different teacher asked him to spit out his gum.

    He has a modified work load and modified schedule. I've been picking him up at lunch time to try and avoid the afternoon tantrums. He went to school this morning and they were calling me before 11 to pick him up. We have done everything suggested. We have a great relationships with the teachers, support teachers and administration. We are working with them and talk almost daily. He went to a French immersion school for K and grade 1, we thought maybe that was the problem. The work was more difficult so we got him into a really good English stream school this year. We had a honeymoon period the first couple weeks but now it's just back to usual - fighting his teacher, acting out, hitting and kicking the other kids. We have even create a safety plan for him because he was acting out so badly the staff needs a plan to follow. I stay up at night crying and guilt ridden. I didn't mind school, at least understood I had to go and do my work. I just don't get it. I can't imagine it feelin good to feel so angry all the time. My heart is breaking for my little boy. Please help me...

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport
      JamesAndEthansMom I hear how much you care about your son, and want to help him to succeed in school.  I’m glad that you have been working with the school to address his behavior, as well as using other available resources such as doctors.  I encourage you to continue to doMore so.  Something else you might try is problem-solving with your son at home about how he can follow the rules at school.  James Lehman outlines how to do this in his article series https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/aggressive-child-behavior-part-i-fighting-in-school-and-at-home/ and https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/aggressive-child-behavior-part-ii-7-tools-to-stop-fighting-in-school-and-at-home/.  Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going for you and your family. Take care.
  • granddaughter
    okay past all the above, teacher very helpful, she does not qualify for soecial class, now what my child needs help?
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      granddaughter 

      I hear you.I’m glad

      that you are working together with the teacher to address your child’s issues

      at school, as well as looking into any underlying issues which might be

      contributing to these problems in the classroom.I encourage you to continue to work with the

      school to develop a plan to help your child.In addition, we find that inappropriate behavior is often linked to a

      child’s ineffective problem-solving strategies. So, it could be helpful for you to work with

      her at home to improve her https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior-i-cant-solve-problems/.Please let us know if you

      have any additional questions.Take

      care.

  • Teachers Do Not Talk
    What do you do about a school that DOES NOT talk to you about your child's misbehavior? I don't mean things like running or talking in class. My child got in trouble for punching another child in the stomach multiple times. I only overheard from another teacher about it (notMore the full story either). I am VERY active in my children's lives and want to know when they do things like this so I can deal with the issues at hand. I can't help them if I don't know what is going on. And it is very difficult to get teachers to have time to talk to me.
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      @Teachers Do Not Talk 

      You make a great point that it is difficult to partner with

      the school to address behavior issues if you are unaware that these issues are

      occurring.  Although the situation with your child’s school is different

      than what is described in the article above, many of the same points

      apply.  I still encourage you to try to partner with your child’s teacher

      and communicate about what is going on at school.  You might reach out to

      your child’s teacher to find out what method (such as email, phone and/or

      in-person meetings) s/he prefers to communicate with parents as well.  In

      addition, if you continue to have difficulty partnering with your child’s

      teacher, find someone else you can work with at the school, such as a guidance

      counselor, school social worker, or the principal.  Thank you for writing

      in; please let us know if you have any additional questions.

  • Very Concerned

    To the Director of Transportation

    I understand you have a shortage of bus drivers but my grandchild is a attending your after school tutoring program, and is having trouble with the bus driver calling him names. He feels intimidated and is having a tough time with wanting to attend tutoring.  He has asked me several times if I could pick him up from the program and I will try and make arrangements for that beginning this week. Since I have tried calling you with no response or call back I decided to try another route before I make an appearance.  Over the weekend my grandson decided he didn't want to eat. He ate but very little.  He called his Aunt in another city and asked if she could pick him up from tutoring. We will need to seek appropriate counseling and council if no response is given to this matter. Sooo what suggestions can you give me in this case.  What is your policy on bullying.

    Thank you in advance for your response

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