Kindergarten classrooms are cute, with their bright bulletin boards and calf-high chairs. Walking past all the piles of picture books and stocked shelves, it's hard to imagine anything but fun. But as a parent, you know: little kids can have terrible days sometimes, and they can stretch into horrible weeks, and sometimes a bad spell can't be fixed without a big talk with the teacher. That said, you may have read your share of advice books: you don't want to be a "helicopter" parent, zooming in and irritating everyone. You're just starting out, and the last thing you need is to get on the teacher's bad side.
What should you do if an issue arises? Whether it's something the teacher said that made your child upset, or something that's just not working for him, here are some practical tips for talking with the kindergarten teacher, in a way that won't harm your relationship:
1. Assume you're on the same team. Approach any conference with a positive attitude-- you're there to talk to a partner and figure out how you can work together to solve a problem. As a rule, kindergarten teachers go into this business because they love little kids and they want them to thrive. Kindergarten teachers are not trial lawyers or salespeople; they're trained educators with big hearts. Think of teachers as your allies in understanding what happened and how to deal with it, and assume that they, too, want this conversation to go well. And remember, they're probably just as nervous as you are! As a related note: no one wants to be embarrassed in public. Always bring up issues directly and privately, not in front of other parents, staff, or kids; and avoid playing "telephone" with other parents. Your discretion is a sign of respect and it will go a long way towards building firm trust.
2. Don't act confrontational. Even if you're very upset, start with a warm hello and a piece of good news. When a child's had an explosion, or comes home in tears, you can expect your own emotions to run high. But when you talk with your teacher, take a deep breath and start with what is working--whether it's the cozy reading corner or the recess slide. Then, and only then, discuss your concerns. Your child's teacher will appreciate knowing not just negatives to overcome, but positives to carry forward.
3. Make sure you hear the teacher's side. You can expect kids to tell you everything they've seen and experienced. But usually, a teacher has seen the bigger picture. Allow her to add her observations, without interrupting. No matter how upset you feel, listen carefully--the problem may turn out to be much simpler than you expected.
4. Choose your words carefully. When you talk with the teacher, watch out for phrases like "my child," or "your job." Even though you may mean well, these words can easily convey a sense of competing turf, right when you most want to forge solutions together. Instead, use your child's name, and whenever possible, use "we." For example, "I was hoping we could talk about how to help Thomas on the playground" will be much less threatening than, "I'm here to talk about what you're doing to protect my child." It will probably invite better solutions, too.
5. Make sure you end with a plan. Here you are, having stepped up for a hard meeting. Don't let it come to nothing! Make sure you and the teacher decide on at least one specific thing each of you can do to address your concerns, and then make sure you check in with each other later. If the plan works, great! If not, you've still made a great investment in your long term relationship with this teacher, and the two of you can move on to other ideas until you find a better solution.
Your child, of course, probably knows that you're talking with the teacher, and will likely be very curious. This is a great time to set a positive, optimistic tone. You don't need to share details, but be sure to share the good news: You listened to your child, you listened to the teacher, and you're all going to work together to solve the problem.
And when the dust settles, be sure you congratulate yourself. Let's face it, advocating for a child is really tough work. It's also one of the most important things you'll ever do.