Surprising news from a parent-teacher conference? Here’s how to handle it

ByDeJunne’ Clark Jackson, MA, MAT, MEd, CALT, LDT

mom with two sons

When you’re a parent of school-age kids, parent-teacher conferences are a regular part of life. Sometimes these conferences are easy conversations. Other times they can be tough. 

With my first child, who has an , I would carefully prepare for these meetings. I knew I would face difficult information about his progress at school.

But with my youngest child, parent-teacher conferences were simply a formality. I never expected to hear not-so-good news — until I did. And when that day came, I was a bit taken aback. How could I not know he was having difficulty?

It can feel overwhelming to hear that your child is struggling, especially if you haven’t been aware of it. But it’s important to remain present and remember that you’re working alongside the teacher and your child. Together you can find solutions to navigate these challenges. 

Here are four tips for handling surprising news from parent-teacher conferences. 

1. Manage your emotions

When emotions are strong, it can be hard to stay composed. Take a moment to breathe and collect yourself.  One of my favorite breathing exercises is the 4-7-8 breath. 

Begin by inhaling deeply through your nose for a count of four. Then hold your breath for a count of seven. Finally, exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. This helps to slow down your breathing, relax your body, and reduce tension. Then you can focus on the task at hand: helping your child move forward.   

2. Ask questions  

Ask open-ended questions, like “Can you share examples of when this challenge happened?” Listen to the perspectives of those at the meeting and take notes, if you can.

Clear, open dialogue can help build trust between you and the teacher. It can also give you the information you need to talk about the challenges — and the possible solutions — with your child. 

3. Talk with your child 

After the conference, have an honest conversation with your child. Tell your child what the teacher shared (as appropriate) and explain that you want to help. Listen closely to how your child responds. Be sure not to react in a way that makes your child feel judged or ashamed. 

Be understanding of your child’s feelings and perspectives. And express your expectations in a way that is encouraging and productive. With lots of support, your child can come out of these tough conversations stronger and more resilient. 

For more tips, check out this article on talking to your child about parent-teacher conferences

4. Reset

Use the tough news as a chance to reset. Talk with your child about how it’s important to be open about what’s been going on so that you can work together. Make a plan, and be sure to include the teacher. This helps build a strong partnership between parent, child, and teacher.

That unexpected update on my child’s progress taught me a valuable lesson: Don’t wait until conference time to check in on your child’s progress. It’s OK to have regular check-ins with teachers so you’re aware of your child’s progress each step of the way.

Together, you, your child, and the teacher can tackle any challenge with openness, understanding, and a strong commitment to each other’s success.  


Get more tips from the author about parent-teacher conferences on a podcast episode of In It.

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    About the author

    About the author

    DeJunne’ Clark Jackson, MA, MAT, MEd, CALT, LDT is the president of The Center for Literacy & Learning, a Louisiana-based 501c(3) nonprofit organization focused on literacy, birth through life.