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How to Have Difficult Conversations with Parents

Whether you’re dealing with problems with student behavior, academics, or other social or learning difficulties, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open with parents. This can be a challenge when you’re talking about sensitive topics. But with time and practice, teachers can usually find a strategy that works for everybody when it comes to addressing sensitive conversations and building and retaining a healthy relationship with both parents and students. 

I have built a blueprint of strategies that I use with my parents to have successful conversations with families about how their child is doing in my classroom. Take a peek below and keep reading for specific solutions to common student struggles.

Parent Communication Blueprint

  • Show them that you’re on the same side. You are a team, working together to help the child be successful.
  • ASK parents first if there is something they are concerned about or are seeing at home that they’d like to address and if they have found solutions that work at home.
  • Always pair negative comments with positive ones. Parents want to know that they are doing something right! 
  • Give solutions. Want a parent’s help? Be specific with what you need from them.
  • Listen! Ask them how things are going at home. Maybe they can give you some insights that might help explain behaviors at school and might help you support them and their child.
  • Show compassion and empathy. You’re discussion a small human, after all!
  • End the conversation with a clear plan of action, including deadlines that everyone can follow and who will be responsible for completing each task as well as what happens if someone falls behind or doesn’t follow through on their portion of the plan.

Show Parents You’re On Their Side

Parents want to know that their child is in good hands. They want to know that their child’s teacher will work with them, get to know them as a person, and be an advocate for their child. They also want to make sure that you understand the impactful challenges that are going on outside of school.

In order to show parents that you’re on their side, it’s important for you not only to express empathy and compassion, and to remind parents about what they and their child are already doing well,  but also to find ways of helping them address the issues that are arising in your classroom.

Help Families Support their Child at Home with Specific Solutions

Academics can be more straightforward, with tangible strategies and resources parents can use to help their kids improve. When you are talking to parents about their child’s behavior, it’s a little more complex, so it’s important to be clear about your expectations. For example, if you have a student who has been having difficulty following directions at school, it would be helpful to explain what types of behaviors you’re seeing, and what you expect.

Parents may also need guidance on how they should respond when dealing with challenging behavior at home; for example, parents are sometimes unsure of appropriate ways to address behavior, and the norms in their family may vary from the way behavior is addressed at school. 

Share research-based tips and tools with parents to help them understand questions they may have about addressing student behaviors and performance. They may find it easier if you explain how different strategies work according to best practices and research on effective parenting techniques (i.e. positive reinforcement vs negative reinforcement). This will allow both parties involved to feel comfortable discussing potential solutions together.

Be Realistic and Set Achievable Goals and Expectations

You don’t have to get everything accomplished in one meeting with your student’s family. Addressing difficulties is not a one-and-done conversation. You may create a plan to measure success by seeing if actual results match expected outcomes, revising as needed when goals aren’t being met successfully enough or when unexpected problems arise.

Parent relationships are important! It’s all about clear communication and checking in regularly to make sure everybody is on the same page. Consider sending updates about what’s going well, and match the tough conversations with positive news and events from the classroom. This will give families a broader and more positive experience of what it’s like in your classroom, and encourage everybody to be on the same page going forward.

Have realistic expectations and goals. Sometimes you might not be able to come to a resolution during a single school year due to a multitude of factors. But you’ll know you put everything in place to continue to work towards student success, and they have new tools to work with as their child progresses.

For more parent communication tips, check out these blog posts with ideas you can share with families to strengthen your relationship and help your students do well at school and at home.

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