What You'll Learn
- What information should you share with your child's teacher?
- How often should you reach out to your child's teacher?
- What are ways to handle disagreements with your child's teacher?
It is important establish a strong relationship with your child’s teacher, especially if your child has a learning disorder.
Reach out at the beginning of the school year and introduce yourself. Tell them about your child’s strengths, challenges, and any specific goals they are working toward. As the year goes on, keep the teacher informed of any significant events in your child’s life that could impact their schoolwork or behavior, but also, feel free to ask the teacher about how your child is doing, even if you don’t have immediate concerns. This proactive approach can catch potential issues early.
Before meeting with your child’s teacher, it’s helpful to write down key points you want to discuss. Establish clear action items and then set a date to check back in on them. Try to approach conflict or disagreements in the spirit of concern for your child, rather than placing blame. Emphasize that you want to work with the teacher to find solutions and frame your concerns in a positive light. If your child is older, consider inviting them to join in discussions with teachers to express their own thoughts and concerns. Help them practice and prepare for conversations when necessary.
Aim to keep an open line of communication with your child’s teacher, even when things are going well. Sharing positive feedback and praise for a teacher’s efforts will only strength the relationship and make them feel appreciated. Remember that both you and the teacher share a common goal: supporting your child’s growth and well-being.
We know that it’s important for parents to communicate well with their child’s teacher, but it can be hard to know exactly what that means. What kinds of information should you share with the teacher? How do you know which questions to ask? And what do you do if disagreements arise?
When your child has a learning disorder, the answers to these questions are especially important. Kids with LDs often struggle with self-esteem and social challenges, so working well with your child’s teacher is a crucial part of supporting their mental health as well as their academic learning.
Here are a few tips that parents of kids in elementary and middle school can use to build a strong connection with the teacher and keep the lines of communication open throughout the school year. And for kids who work closely with a learning specialist, school counselor, or other school staff member, these same collaborative strategies can be helpful.
Taking a little time at the start of the school year, or even right before, can be a powerful way to establish a relationship with your child’s teacher and set everyone up for a successful year.
Whether it’s in an email or a conversation at a welcome event, give the teacher some basic information about your child and where they stand in school. “Establishing a partnership from the beginning is really important,” says Heidi Wheeler, PsyD, a neuropsychologist in the Learning and Development Center at the Child Mind Institute. She recommends letting the teacher know any relevant details about:
- Concerns you have about your child going into the school year, whether academic, social, or emotional, including any specific mental health or learning diagnoses
- Notable strengths and what has worked well for them in the past (for example, if they love math or do a great job working in groups)
- Anything your child is working on at home that could be reinforced at school (like taking deep breaths when they’re experiencing big emotions)
“If you have a goal that you would like to establish for your child and see them make progress towards, then the teacher can be supportive in that,” Dr. Wheeler adds.
The idea is to get on the same page about your child’s key strengths and challenges, so that you can work together to help them build on what’s working and make progress in areas that are more difficult.
It’s also a good idea to use this first communication to establish the best way to get in touch later. Would the teacher prefer an email or a phone call? What are the best times to set up a meeting or stop by in person? How far in advance do they like to plan? Getting a sense of the teacher’s preferences and schedule (and sharing your own) will make it easier to communicate later on.
Keep them in the loop
It can be hard to know whether to fill the teacher in on something that’s going on in your child’s life, especially when you know how busy they are. But Dr. Wheeler says to err on the side of sharing information: “Important events that are happening in the family are likely to impact your child’s social emotional functioning, and thereby indirectly impact their academic functioning, so it makes sense to share.”
If you experience a death or illness in the family, or if your child is experiencing a medical illness themselves, let your child’s teacher know it’s affecting your child and also fill them in on any schedule changes that might happen as a result. It’s up to you how much detail to share, but the important thing is to consider how the change might impact your child at school and let the teacher know how they can be supportive.
Any changes in your child’s living situation or family structure are worth bringing up too, like a divorce or a move. Even seemingly smaller changes, like a parent traveling more for work or an older sibling leaving home, can have a significant impact, especially on young kids. Definitely tell the teacher if you notice your child struggling with a specific change, but even if you don’t, it can still help to keep them in the loop—with a clearer idea of what’s going on in your child’s life, they may notice challenges coming up at school that you’re not seeing at home.
It’s common for kids to behave differently at school and at home, so teachers may have insight into your child that you wouldn’t get just from seeing them at home. For instance, your child might be cooperative at home but act out at school due to social anxiety, frustration with academics, or any number of other reasons. Or they might stay focused within the structure of the school day and then struggle to behave at home when the pressure is off.
That’s why it’s helpful to ask your child’s teacher directly about how they’re functioning in different areas, says Dr. Wheeler. “You can ask, ‘Is my child making friends? What do their social skills look like at school? Do you have any concerns about how my child is behaving at school or performing academically?’”
By asking questions proactively, even when you don’t have any specific worries about your child, you can catch early signs that something might be amiss while also reinforcing to the teacher that you’re available and interested in working together if issues do come up.
Teachers are busy — and so are you! A little planning can make the time you do have to talk more productive and focused on your child’s needs.
Whether you’re meeting with the teacher to address a specific concern or just checking in about how your child is doing in general, write down what you want to say ahead of time. Try to pick just a few key points to focus on to make sure you don’t forget anything major, and keep less significant issues on the back burner in case you end up with extra time.
At the start of the conversation, you can set a quick, informal agenda together: “I want to make sure we go over Lydia’s progress with reading, and I’d also like to touch on how she’s doing with handling her feelings when she gets frustrated. Is there anything else you wanted to talk about today?”
And if you’re working together to solve a particular problem, it’s helpful to leave the meeting with a clear action item or two: “Okay, I’m going to reinforce those reading strategies when she does her homework, and we’ll check in again in two weeks to see how it’s going.”
Focus on collaboration
Especially if your child has a learning disorder and is struggling with academics, it’s common for tensions to arise with your child’s teacher. Maybe you’re not convinced your child is getting adequate support in the classroom, or maybe your child is even convinced that their teacher doesn’t like them.
When you find yourself navigating one of these tricky situations, “showing them that you’re not coming from a place of blame or accusation, but rather concern for your child” is key, says Dr. Wheeler. Instead of pointing out what you think the teacher might be doing wrong (“You’re making Charlie feel like he’s not smart!”) try to frame your concerns in terms of working together to find a solution: “Charlie has been coming home feeling discouraged about his schoolwork lately. I’d like to talk about strategies we can both try to help him build confidence.”
If your child is expressing concerns to you directly, it can help to share their perspective with the teacher while also making it clear that you know there may be more to the story. You might say something like: “The other day Desiree told me that she thinks you’re mad at her. I’m guessing there was some kind of miscommunication, but I’d like to talk about what might have made her feel that way and how we can help her feel more secure in school.”
Teachers want your child to excel as much as you do, Dr. Wheeler notes, and “and if they hear that your child is hurting, they want to know how to help too.”
Support your child’s autonomy
With older children, it often makes sense to involve them in your communication with teachers. That can mean anything from just keeping them in the loop to helping them participate in the conversation themselves.
“If they’re comfortable speaking up for themselves, then the more we can support their autonomy, the better,” says Dr. Wheeler. You might talk to their teacher together or support them through the process of setting up the conversation and planning what to say.
Supporting older kids “behind the scenes” when there’s an issue can often be more helpful than talking to the teacher directly. “They may need to practice being able to assert themselves and choosing their words carefully. And so it’s good to have those discussions and practice in advance,” notes Dr. Wheeler. “And if there are obstacles that they can already foresee, that might get in their way, practicing how they would handle those.”
But there will also be situations where it’s more appropriate for you to step in and handle the conversation on their behalf. The important thing is to make sure your child has a voice in the process of working with the teacher, even if it’s just talking with you about what the best way for them to handle a given challenge might be. “Let them know that you’re there to support them, and that you can work together to come up with ideas if they feel stuck in how to handle a situation,” Dr. Wheeler says.
Keep things positive
As much as it’s important to work well with teachers when your child is having a problem, it’s also helpful to keep in touch when all is well. Sharing a quick positive anecdote when you see them at school (“Robin loved that creative writing project last week!”) or sending them notes of appreciation when you see your child making progress are easy ways to express your gratitude and keep the lines of communication open.
Above all, says Dr. Wheeler, remember that you and your child’s teacher are on the same team: “Both of you are there because you want to support your kids, and remembering that common goal can get you pretty far.”