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Parent Teacher Conferences - A Guide to Handling the Fall Out

Deborah Gilboa, MD, aka "Dr. G."
Parenting and Youth Development Expert & Reset Summer Camp Partner, Deborah Gilboa, MD, aka "Dr. G."

“Is my child doing OK?” This is the fundamental question we ask ourselves as parents all the time.

Parent-teacher conferences are a lot like taking your child for a well visit at the doctor. You might have a couple of questions, you (hopefully) will talk to someone who helps you as you’re raising your kid, but you mostly just don’t want any surprises. So what are you supposed to do when you get the answer at conferences, “Hey, your kid is NOT doing OK.”

1. Don’t panic. It’s easy to feel like everything you believed - about your child, your family, yourself - has changed in that moment. It hasn’t. And also, panicking won’t help. There are things you and your child can do to get on the right road.

2. Do get a second opinion. If you heard something concerning from one teacher, but what you expected from the others, this is likely an issue with one subject, or one person, for your student. You can’t ignore it, but it’s important to keep it in perspective. We all have a teacher or a subject with which we struggle. That struggle is valuable and has a lot to teach.

3. Do ask your student to explain their own experiences. Try to avoid attacking your child with what you’ve heard. Instead, try asking one of these questions:

“Talked to your teachers tonight. What do you guess they said?”

“A couple of your teachers have concerns about how you’re doing. Do you have any concerns?”

“What’s going well at school from your point of view? What isn’t?”

None of these questions lets your student off the hook. It’s simply respectful and useful to ask for a clearer understanding of what they’re going through in the school day. It will give you insight and help to find solutions, if you “get it” from their perspective.

4. Do decide on a goal. Feedback is meant to help someone improve. So decide - with your student if at all possible - what specifically that improvement would look like.

5. Do choose a goal your child can control. Don’t focus on grades or “not getting in trouble.” Ask any student and they’ll know that it’s the teacher who controls the grade, and sometimes they get in trouble without any idea what they did wrong. Students can control effort, asking for help, checking in more often, their own organizational skills, how they spend their time, and their own behavior. Pick something that they absolutely can make happen.

6. Do make a plan to reach that goal. Ask your child for their plan, and - if at all possible - try that first. Your student’s plan has the best chance at success, because it’s theirs! You can guide the plan, but the more your child or teen decides for themself, the more likely they are to follow it. Also, this is great practice for adulthood - we all need to set goals and make plans to reach them, you are teaching them an amazing lifelong skill.

7. Do plan your follow up. Schedule a time with your child, and with their teachers, to check back in and see what’s improving. That first check-in should be in the next week (two at the most) to make sure there’s progress. If not, it’s time to shift the goal or get some help. Which brings us to...

8. Don’t try to be the only expert. Did a teacher bring up an issue that you’re not sure how to handle? That’s totally fine! You’re an expert in your kid, but you’re likely NOT an expert in so many of the issues that kids face. Do you need to talk to your child’s doctor about their behavior, or vision, or hearing, or other concerns?

Do you need a developmental evaluation to see if and why your child might be behind on meeting milestones? Have you tried absolutely everything you can to get your child to focus on schoolwork but all they do is play video games or watch YouTube? Are you worried about your student’s mental health or emotional safety? There are people who can help you. You do the most good for your child when you get that help. Check out these resources for help!

Medical or behavioral concerns? Try your child’s doctor first.

Mental health concerns? Reach out to the guidance counselor or social worker at your child’s school, your child’s doctor for a referral to child psychologist or psychiatrist in your area, or to the Children’s Hospital in your area. For more immediate help, try the National Alliance on Mental Health 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) which is open M-F 10a-6p ET

If you or someone you know is in crisis—whether they are considering suicide or not—please call the toll-free Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a trained crisis counselor 24/7.

Tech overuse/screen addiction behaviors: Many parents feel overwhelmed when it comes to their child’s screen-time behaviors, be it social-media, online gaming or streaming video content. You are not alone.

Some wonderful resources can be found at:

Common Sense is the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century.

A fully immersive, residential 4-week, clinical program where teens detox from their screen addictions and learn how to self-regulate while participating in individual/group therapy. The Life Skills program creates understanding and builds self-confidence so our campers will be able to handle their real-world responsibilities.

The world’s largest support community for video game addiction.

Are you worried that video games and technology are causing your child to struggle in school?

Not sure if your child actually has a technology addiction?

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