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How To Take The Stress Out Of Parent-Teacher Conferences

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Preparing to meet your child's teacher can be nerve-wracking. It's hard not to feel as though you're being "graded" as a parent. Lifestyle reporter Ylonda Caviness has tips to take the stress out of the parent-teacher conference.

LISA: For howdini, I’m Lisa Birnbach. Who is more nervous when you’re called in for a parent-teacher conference: you or your kid? Those meetings can be very stressful, but they don’t have to be – or so says Ylonda Caviness, a Lifestyle editor who writes about family issues. Thank you for being here, Ylonda.

YLONDA: Thanks for having me.

LISA: I’m going to ask you why parents are so stressed out over parent-teacher conferences, but I get stressed out before that!

YLONDA: Everyone gets stressed out before a parent-teacher conference!

LISA: Right!

YLONDA: You know why? It’s the subtext. Underneath it all, I think moms and dads are feeling as though their kid’s behavior in classroom is a reflection on their parenting. So you get a little nervous; it’s not just that you’re thinking, oh my kid’s not doing so well – also, you’re going back to your own parent-teacher conference when you were the kid and you’re being talked about at nine with your parents and your teacher – the subtext is, am I good enough as a parent? Is this teacher going to think, well you know Junior doesn’t sit still and doesn’t behave well; these must be lousy people. And that kind of –

LISA: Lousy, dumb people!

YLONDA: Lousy, dumb people! We feel as though we’re going to be judged. We feel as though we’re going to be walking into this classroom, and this teacher is going to be looking at us sideways. That’s not the case, but it’s a fear that we all have.

LISA: But also, we want our kids to succeed in life.


LISA: And I guess we feel it’s third grade parent-teacher conference; if this isn’t good, our kid will blow their whole chance at success in the future.

YLONDA: We’re all a little too invested I, I, I can say lightly in our child’s early grade years especially. And at the end of their school years, I think we can all look back on our own classroom experiences, you know maybe we weren’t model students all the time, but we turned out okay.

LISA: What can we do – I would suggest that we don’t tell our kids that we’re so nervous about it, right?

YLONDA: Oh, you definitely don’t want your kids to pick up on it, you definitely don’t. But the thing that you can do – there’s a lot you can’t control going into that meeting. I mean you don’t know, really, how your kid acts in school. You don’t really know all of the details of your kids tests and performances and stuff.

LISA: Right.

YLONDA: But you can control the things that you can’t control. So you want to be prepared when you go in there. Talk to your child before you go to the meeting and find out from your child if there’s any concerns. And, you know, I always ask my kids, what do you think your teacher’s going to tell me? You don’t want any surprises when you get there.

LISA: I always get a surprise with one of my children who says, ‘oh, I’m acing everything’ and that is sadly never the case.

YLONDA: Not the case.

LISA: Yeah. What about presenting yourself to the teacher? Are there some tricks to get ready for it?

YLONDA: You, you want to show that you’re concerned. Come with some questions; be prepared with pen and paper. When you get there too, make sure that you’re showing the teacher that you’re open. I mean, that’s hard to be objective, really, about something that is so personal and so subjective; we’re talking about your kid here. But just make sure that your body language is saying that you’re open. Open your arms, uncross your legs – it may be difficult to get comfortable in those kiddie chairs, but just show the teacher that you’re listening, and that you’re open to her or his, you know, view of your child. I want to be the teacher’s pet parent. Go in there, and make sure the teacher understands that you want to do what you can do, and ask the teacher, ‘what can I do at home that will help my child perform better at school? What can I be doing at home that will help his math scores come up?’ That kind of thing. And make sure that when you leave there, the child, the teacher understands that you want to follow up; this isn’t just, you know, a one-time thing.

LISA: So let’s say the stress is all pre-conference. What about after the conference?

YLONDA: After the conference, I think a note is in order. You know, you may want to thank the teacher for his or her time, and also come up with some strategy, if there was a problem, for continuing the discussion, there should be some follow up. It shouldn’t be, well, your kid’s not doing well on this, and this, and that, goodbye. There should be some follow up. Ask the teacher how they like to be reached; if it’s email, if it’s phone, if it’s note. And make sure that it’s an ongoing thing. You know, people have these meetings, usually at the beginning of the year. Make sure the teacher knows that from here on out, you two are going to be partners. And just ask: how can I help you help my child?

LISA: Mmhmm. And that will reduce stress for the following one.

YLONDA: Exactly.

LISA: That, and a martini. Thanks, Ylonda.

YLONDA: Thank you.

LISA: I’m Lisa Birnbach for howdini.com.

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