By Bob Cunningham
Is your child with learning and attention issues having social or emotional problems at school? Whether you brought concerns to the teacher’s attention or you’re responding to her concerns, talk specifics. Here are some questions to ask.
It’s possible that your child’s difficulties come from a personality clash with just one or two other children. If this is the case, you can ask the teacher and school to take steps to minimize the kids’ interaction for a period of time. The teacher can change the seating arrangements in class and at lunch, for example, without much disruption.
The work could be too difficult. Or your child might not understand what he’s supposed to do. He may find it hard to follow class discussions. This frustration could cause your child to act out toward the teacher, his peers or you. If his social or emotional issues seem to be a reaction to academic frustration, you can ask the teacher to consider making informal changes to your child’s assignments. If your child has an IEP or 504 plan, you could talk to the teacher about formal supports.
Knowing what situations lead to problems with socializing will help both you and the teacher know how to help. If your child withdraws, the teacher can find ways to encourage participation in social situations at school. You can look for afterschool activities where he can get involved with other kids. If he tries to get involved but is unsuccessful, role-playing some social situations with him might help.
It’s not unusual for situations outside of school to carry over into school. This is a good opportunity for you to share with the teacher if anything unusual is going on at home. A recent death in the family, tension between parents, issues with a sibling and changes in a parent’s employment are important situations to mention. Children often have real difficulty separating school from the rest of their lives.
Are problems showing up in class, in the lunchroom or on the playground? The answer can help you determine whether your child is reacting to specific tasks and people or having general difficulties throughout the day. If academic activities seem to be triggering the difficulties, start by addressing those skills. If non-academic and unstructured times are more challenging—lunch and recess, for example—it’s best to focus on social skills instruction.
These are practical suggestions phrased as questions. When a child is having social and emotional difficulties, sometimes teachers can overlook simple changes that can really make a difference.
You know what your child is sensitive to better than anyone. This is a good time to share your knowledge with the teacher. It could be that the teacher or other students are triggering a response in your child without knowing it.
It’s important to know if the issues are specific to your child or if they’re actually class-management issues. If something’s a problem for all the students, there are things the teacher could do for the whole class that could also help your child. For example, she could start a point system for kids to earn free time. Ask the teacher what she does to encourage good behavior in the class.
Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it. If you want to effectively communicate with your child’s teacher, try these sentence starters.
Was your child recently evaluated—either by the school, a private clinic or independent evaluator? It’s important to share the report with your child’s teacher (if the evaluator or your lawyer, if you have one, doesn’t object). Here are suggestions on how to start.
Bob Cunningham, Ed.M., serves as in-house advisor on learning and attention issues at Understood.
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