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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Parent-teacher conferences are a great opportunity to hear about your children’s classroom experience and connect with their teachers. These conferences also have the potential to shape your children’s relationships with their teachers and their school experience for the rest of the year. Sharing the teachers’ feedback with your children can have a lasting positive impact on how they feel about themselves and their success as a student.

Here are some tips to foster a productive and positive conversation.

It is critical that you convey to your children that their teachers care about them and believe in them. Sharing this feedback allows your children to feel secure that school is a place where the adults with whom they spend most of their day are there to support them.

Think about the values that are most important to you and your family and present the information the teachers shared with you in that light.

In order to foster a growth mindset, use phrases that convey your belief in the value of your child’s hard work, not just “good grades.” When describing the teachers’ reports, use phrases such as:

“You keep trying even when the work is hard.”

“You ask for help when you are unsure about something.”

“You care about doing your best.”

In order to highlight the importance of being a good friend and treating people with respect, report what the teachers noticed about your child’s relationships with others. Use specific phrases such as:

“You are always careful to include everyone.”

“You treat your classmates and teachers with kindness.”

“You are sensitive to other people’s feelings.”

When talking to your child about an area in which the teacher would like to see progress or in which your child is struggling, try to:

Frame the conversation with a growth mindset, making sure your child understands that all of the adults in his life believe he or she is able to succeed with hard work.

Show your child “the power of yet.” Help your son or daughter reframe challenges from “something they are not good at” to “something they have not mastered yet.”

Your child might like to be reminded of a time he or she faced something that was difficult to accomplish, but he or she worked hard and was able to overcome the challenge (e.g., riding a two-wheeler, learning to swim, finishing a project).

Promote positive self-talk and encouraging thoughts so your child can talk herself or himself through a situation if they feel discouraged.

Use encouraging phrases that show your child that you believe in them and love them, irrespective of their academic achievements. Ask your child if he or she thinks a subject or situation is hard, or how he or she feels about the subject or situation. Validate your child’s feelings. Your son or daughter might appreciate hearing about something that is hard for you at work and how it makes you feel. This is a great opportunity to reflect on your child’s strengths and weaknesses in a collaborative way. You can help your child brainstorm and engage in some problem solving with respect to what is hard for them; it’s important for your child to identify some ideas of his or her own, and not just accept your ideas. You can model planning and organizing and you can work together to address the challenge.

If a teacher reports that your child is behaving in school in a way that is not consistent with your family’s values (e.g., disrespectful, unkind), it is okay to let your child know that you are concerned about this behavior and explain your expectations. Be very specific and couch it with a lot of love and encouragement so your child does not feel discouraged. For example:

“I know you are such a great kid and sometimes you feel very ___ at school but I was concerned to hear that sometimes you make your friends feel bad. I know it can be hard but I expect you to treat your peers with kindness even when you are upset. How can I help you make better choices at school even when you are angry?”

“You are always so respectful to your grandparents when we see them and I was concerned to hear that you do not show the same respect to your teachers. I know you are someone who can be very respectful and I expect you to respect the adults at school even if you disagree with them. How can I help you achieve this goal?”

You can also ask your child to reflect on his or her behavior by using questions such as:

“When do you feel like you are being your best self?”

“When do you feel proud of yourself at school?”

“What is something you think you can do differently or work harder at?”

If your child is struggling with a behavior or mindset issue, consider providing a model of goals and expectations that you have established for yourself in your own life. Your child might like to hear about something you find challenging and how you manage or overcome that situation (e.g., daily traffic, a rude supervisor, grueling scheduling, a boring conference…).

Think deeply about what messages you want to articulate to your children, and plan your conversation. This is a great opportunity to convey your family’s values, your belief in your amazing children and your commitment to supporting them as they grow.

By Dr. Rebecca Mischel and Dr. Goldie Grossman


Dr. Goldie Grossman is the assistant principal at the JEC Lower School. She lives in Highland Park with her family. Dr. Rebecca Mischel is the director of guidance at the JEC Lower School and has a private practice in Teaneck. She lives in Livingston with her family.