Supporting Your Child’s Communication With Teachers
Effective communication between a student and teacher helps ensure that the student is able to reach his fullest potential in a school setting. The nature of what is necessary to share with a teacher depends on the child’s age and needs.
Parents typically decrease their role in communicating their child’s needs to teachers as the child begins to take responsibility and use his own judgment regarding what is important to share. As with many developmental tasks, a child’s ability to communicate his needs to a teacher emerges gradually.
Early Childhood Teacher Communication
During the preschool and elementary school years, parents are the primary communicators on behalf of their children. A child’s needs in preschool revolve almost entirely around bodily and emotional care. Therefore, parents often communicate with teachers about changes in the child’s routine or sleeping pattern, toileting issues, food or diet concerns, or disruptions to the family’s routine such as a parent traveling, a divorce or a death in the family.
In some cases, parents may wish to share certain information privately with a teacher. However, considering that this is the first stage of a long developmental process, it may be most beneficial for a child to have some sense of what a parent feels is important to share. For instance, in the case of a traveling father, a mother could say, “I’m going to let Ms. Stein know that Daddy is out of town this week. Sometimes things feel a little different when he is away and it would be good for her to know that you might be missing him.”
Middle Childhood Teacher Communication
Over time, children take on more responsibility for themselves. By the time a child reaches the mid-elementary school years, she likely selects her own outfits and is developing her own style. She may have some say in what she packs for lunch, and work more independently at home on chores and homework.
At the same time, children in this age group are capable of taking more responsibility for communicating their needs to their teachers, perhaps with support and guidance (and a follow-up) from parents. It’s less important for teachers of this age group to know personal details, although some emotional aspects of the child’s life may be pertinent, especially in cases in which an event or change in a child’s life has been disruptive or traumatic.
In most cases, student-teacher communication at this stage revolves primarily around academic development. In the case of a student struggling with a skill or concept related to a homework assignment, for example, a parent might say, “It would be helpful to let Mrs. Jones know that this part of the homework was hard for you. I’ll put a note on it explaining why you didn’t finish it and you can ask her for help when you have some time tomorrow.”
Depending on the situation, it may be necessary for a parent to follow up with the teacher to be sure the child sought help from him or her.
Adolescent Teacher Communication
Once children are in high school, they should be well on their way to being or becoming independent students. They complete their homework on their own and are (at least somewhat) aware of their strengths and struggles. Parents may offer suggestive guidance here and there, but what adolescents decide to do is ultimately up to them.
When to Seek Help
Some children struggle with aspects of their developing independence and autonomy in general. If a child’s development as an independent student doesn’t seem to be moving along, parents may wish to seek professional help. A qualified clinician may be able to help the family determine and work through the emotional struggles that are interfering with the child’s ability to become a confident and independent student.
The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the emotional health and well-being of children and families. Visit lucydanielscenter.org to learn more.