Building Your Child's Education Team

If your child has a learning or mental health issue that affects her ability to thrive in school, it's crucial to work closely with teachers and other professionals. Experts from the Child Mind Institute offer useful advice.
Child Mind Institute

All children need their parents and teachers to work together as allies -- and that teamwork is even more important for children who are struggling in school. They may also need other specialists on their team to help promote their academic and social achievement and help them reach their full potential.

As you assess whether your child is doing as well as she could be, your communication with her classroom teacher is key. Here are some tips to build strong relationships with teachers, and determine what support your child needs to thrive.

Check In With Teachers Early and Often

Whether your child is a quick study or is struggling in school, building that team to support him starts with forming an effective partnership with his teacher.

When your child starts each school year, your first goal should be to make sure you understand his new teacher's expectations, including the demands of the academic curriculum and grade-appropriate behaviors. Remember that when your child enters a new classroom, he won't just be tackling new math skills, he'll be experiencing a new style of learning and building new relationships.

When you talk to the new teacher, make sure to give her the information she needs to put your child's behavior into an effective context. Does your son need extra time, or a periodic break to do his best work? Does he need to sit near the front of the class to be able to focus? Is he such a perfectionist that he rubs a hole in the paper correcting his own work? Teachers want to know these things -- preferably before class begins.

For parents of children who have struggled in the past, starting with a blank slate is an attractive idea, but it rarely works out, says Susan Schwartz, director of the Child Mind Institute's Learning and Diagnostics Center. Keeping a teacher in the dark about an issue you already know about only leads to surprises and frustration for the teacher (and for your child). Schwartz also notes that even if you don't talk to the teacher about your child, there is always the possibility that another teacher or parent will -- and the information that is shared may be inaccurate or outdated or biased. It's better to tell the teacher everything that you want her to know.

Similarly, you want to let the teacher know that you'd like her to share anything specific she notices about what helps your child learn effectively, or anything that tends to get in his way.

If you have any specific questions, don't be afraid to ask the teacher. For example, how much involvement should parents typically have in a child's homework? Different teachers have different opinions, and you'll be glad you asked.

Finally, ask if there are ways the teacher wants you to be more involved -- or if there are ways you should be stepping back.

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