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Be Prepared and Get the Most Out of Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parent-teacher conferences offer a valuable opportunity to talk in depth with the person to whom you entrust your child's education. While it is enjoyable to hear how well a child is doing, it can be more valuable, albeit uncomfortable, to learn about any problems that may be developing.

"The first parent-teacher conference is often when parents first learn that their child is not doing well in school, either academically or behaviorally," said Bruce Bender, PhD, head of pediatric behavioral health at National Jewish Medical and Research Center. "When that occurs parents should try to learn as much as possible about the problem so that they can be better equipped to find a solution."

Dr. Bender offers several suggestions that can help parents get the most out of a parent-teacher conference, to better understand problems that do come up, and to begin seeking answers.

Be prepared. Before attending the conference, write down any concerns you may have about your child and school. When you arrive, let the teacher know you have topics you wish to discuss. However, you should also remember that time is often limited during these conferences, and the teacher usually has an agenda and topics to cover. So, let the teacher take lead. If you don't get time to discuss your concerns, ask to meet with the teacher at another time.
If a teacher does mention a problem, there are several steps you can take to better define and understand the problem. If you can find out what is causing the problem, you are more likely to find a solution.

Concrete examples and context. Ask for concrete examples of the problem. What is the child actually doing? Also try to learn the specific circumstances associated with the problem. Does it seem linked to a specific topic, such as math or reading? That could signal that the child is feeling anxious about that topic and acting out as a result. Does it involve other children or is the child misbehaving alone? Could there be a problem with a bully? Does it always happen at the same time of day or during the same activity?

A school problem or something broader? The problem may be associated specifically with difficulties your child is having at school. Or your child may be suffering a more general psychological distress. If the problem has lasted a long time, surfaces at home as well as at school, there may be a broader problem.  that you should bring up with your pediatrician. Frequent crying and loss of appetite are other warning signs that should be discussed with your pediatrician.

Don't rush to judgment and remedy. Dr. Bender believes that many behavioral problems at school are treated too quickly with medications. A behavioral professional should assess any child for two or three sessions before any medications are prescribed.
"First, figure out what is going on," said Dr. Bender. "Then make a plan of action that can address the problem."

National Jewish operates the Center for Stress and Anxiety Disorders, which offers innovative treatments for children and adolescents suffering from stress and anxiety. For more information, please call 303-298-1260.

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