Challenging Situations-Parent doesn't see the problem

So, little Zachary is having a difficult time in the classroom. He hits his classmates for various reasons, he bites, and maybe he even kicks the teachers. This is an on going behavior that has escalated your frustration and you aren't getting parent cooperation. What do you do?

Many of the times, the scenario looks like this:

This first time you talk to the parents (mom, grandma, dad, etc...) you get a concerned response from them. "What should I do?" or "I'll have a talk with him" or something of that sort.

This is probably the same for number 2 through 4 contacts with the parent. By contact 5, you are probably hearing something along the lines of, "He's picking up this behavior from (name of another child in the classroom)." Thus making the parent feel as if that has solved the problem.

Contact 6 and 7 you are very frustrated. You don't seem to be getting anywhere with the parents, and they actually seem standoffish. The child's behavior is actually escalating for two reasons: 1, you are getting more and more frustrated and he is playing off your emotions; and 2, there is no support from the parents at this point and maybe even some negative talk about school at home.

Now your contacts with the parents are tense, you want to get a referral for a behavioral specialist. The parents are now commenting, "Well, I just don't think you have any control with him (or maybe even the class)." They are now questioning your competency because, "We never have these problems at home."

So, how do we change this pattern from the beginning? Simple, in some ways. The first couple of times do the same that you would. Make the parents aware of the situation and see what kind of support you are going to get.

Here's the change: when you get to the 3rd contact, make a phone call. Ask if this is a convenient time to talk or if it would be better for them to call back at a specific time or come by a little early to pick up so that you can talk. Let them know that you just want to make a plan together to help him get over these challenging times.

When you talk to them at this point, make sure you tell them this, "I know you probably don't see some of these behaviors at home that we are talking about. Remember, you only have one 4 year old at home with 4 year old issues. We have 16 4 year olds in the classroom with 16 4 year old issues. They are all competing for the same attention and having to share that attention and those issues with others. Preschoolers don't share well to begin with; but when they have to share issues with each other, it makes it even harder for them."

Once the parents understand this perspective, they are more likely to look at the situation from their child's perspective and understand that difficulty of being in the classroom with other 4 year old children. This is when you talk to them about what you are doing in the classroom to help and how they can help reinforce what you are teaching at home.

You may also want to invite them to come spend a few hours in the classroom to observe and see what it is like. Parents don't understand what we do because they haven't experienced it (just like children don't understand concepts until they have experiences with them).

Take the approach of everyone working together to help this child rather than putting the responsibility of "fixing" this problem onto the parents. It is your job and your responsibility to take care of discipline issues in the classroom, not the parents. Just as it is the parents responsibility to take care of discipline outside of school, not yours. However, as an educated professional, you should always be willing to help out parents who ask and/or need the help.

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