Although the air is still warm, backpacks and sneakers have replaced bathing suits and flip flops. New teachers and schedules are the focus of dinnertime conversations. School has begun and you want this year to be a success. But how?

The “secret” answer: the parent-teacher conference! Research has shown that when parents are involved in these special meetings, a student’s attendance increases, they get better grades, and their social skills improve. Here are some things to expect from these meetings and tips on how to use the lessons learned to ensure your child will have a successful year.

The basics

Parent–teacher conferences usually happen once or twice a year, usually before report cards are posted. These meetings are a valuable way to learn about your child’s school experience and offer you an opportunity to share important information that can help your child succeed. Most schools set aside specific dates for these brief 10- to 30-minute meetings.

What makes this meeting so special?

The parent-teacher conference is a time when you and your child’s teacher have an opportunity to talk one-on-one about your child’s progress without any distractions. You’ll discuss:

  • Whether your child is meeting school expectations and academic standards.
  • What the teacher is seeing and what your child may not be sharing with you.
  • Attendance information, grades, and test scores.
  • Your child’s behavior in the classroom and how he or she relates to the other children.

The parent-teacher conference isn’t a one-way conversation. Teachers hope that parents will share important information that can help your child’s classroom performance. You can provide a clearer picture of your child by sharing their skills, interests, needs and challenges. This is also a great time to ask any questions you may have. If there are areas where your child needs improvement, create an action plan with the teacher. Institute an arrangement in which you, the teacher, and your child each have specific tasks to complete that will help your child.

How can parents deal with upsetting news?

If you learned about your child’s strengths, but also discovered that some areas need improvement, it can be difficult to hear. It’s perfectly normal to feel frustrated, overwhelmed, or even hopeless. This means you’re invested in your child’s success and you just want them to have a bright future. The good news is that there’s plenty you can do!

Take time to process the information before setting aside one-on-one time with your child to discuss everything you learned. Share the positive points and express how proud you are of these strengths. Afterwards, be direct about any problems. If you and the teacher created an action plan, explain it to your child and answer any questions. Remember to explain that the plan is to help your child.

The action plan

Be sure to start the plan with small, realistic goals. The more input your child has, the more he or she will feel that they have an important role in their success. To ensure the plan is working, check on your child’s behavior and school work on a regular basis. Ask your child about how they’re feeling about school, friends, and schoolwork. How do they feel the action plan is working? It’s okay to adjust the plan along the way.

Keep in touch

Don’t wait until the next parent-teacher conference to get updates. Teachers often prefer to be in touch regularly to work on an issue, rather than deal with a much larger problem down the road. When your son or daughter sees that you and the teacher are working together, he or she will understand that their education is a top priority at home and at school.

What is the best approach to setting expectations with kids?

Research has found that when parents set academic and behavioral expectations for their children, it can have a big impact on how well their child does in these areas. Setting these expectations before school starts is always best, but it’s never too late. You can set expectations at any point during the school year.

The key is to clearly define what you expect your child to do along with rewards and consequences. Once expectations are set, consistency is essential. When you regularly follow through on rewards and consequences, your child will have a clear understanding of their role and be able to take responsibility for their actions.

To start, consider these questions:

  • How long will your c hild spend on homework each night?
  • What are the expectations or rules for using a phone during homework time?
  • What are the expectations or rules for social media use?
  • How often will you check on a child's homework once complete?
  • How often will you check on phone usage and social media accounts?

Using contracts

Parents often find contracts helpful for setting expectations. Contracts serve as a communication tool to help kids think and act more maturely and understand obligations, benefits, and consequences. Be sure to negotiate a contract rather than impose it. Involving your child early will allow “buy-in” and avoid frustration later. For school-related issues, it might be helpful to share the contract with your child’s teacher. The teacher can be helpful in setting realistic expectations when it comes to homework and study time.

Just like you, teachers want your child to succeed. Parent–teacher conferences are a great way to start talking to your child’s teachers in a meaningful way, which can support your child’s learning and development. We wish you a successful, productive and wonderful year ahead!

Remember, if your child is exhibiting any behavior that is of concern, please contact a professional. We’re here to help. For more information on how we can help children and families, please visit our website.

Zachary Engler, MD

Dr. Zachary Engler is child and adolescent psychiatry fellow at Bradley Hospital. Also contributing to this post is Barbara Engler, BA, whose specialty is psychology. 

Child and Adolescent Psychiatry»