parents talking with child's teacherAsserting their point of view with their child’s teachers or principal doesn’t come easily to many parents. The prospect of speaking to them may stir up old anxieties connected with their own student experiences. And parents may believe school staff don’t care to know their views. But in reality, teachers understand that they can be more successful with your child if they know what’s on your mind. 

How you express your views is as important as your willingness to express them. And the response you get from school staff will depend largely on your style of communication. Parents often fit into one of three communication styles: aggressive, non-assertive, and assertive. 

Aggressive parents express their views in a hostile, dominating manner. This approach is rarely effective with educators and may make them more determined not to budge. Non-assertive parents express their views tentatively or may not express them at all. Lacking confidence in their views, they often agree to whatever the school proposes. In contrast, assertive parents express their views in an honest, straightforward, and calm manner while respecting the rights of others. When you speak assertively, you have a greater chance of being heard, understood, and respected.

Parents who assert themselves effectively on behalf of their child are more likely to: 

  • gather key information before a meeting
  • ask questions when confused 
  • offer ideas about how to solve a problem
  • state their views as opinions, not facts
  • restate their viewpoint to ensure understanding
  • respect others’ viewpoints 
  • focus on understanding the problem and looking for solutions
  • express appreciation to school staff when appropriate 
  • avoid fault-finding 
  • disagree, when necessary, with the school’s viewpoint
  • reject vague reassurances when they have genuine concerns
  • follow up a school conference with a letter summarizing the meeting

What's Your Communication Style?

Think about your style of communicating. Do you become angry and demanding when you don’t get satisfaction? Or do you cave quickly? If asserting yourself doesn’t come easily, know that you’re like many other parents. Speaking your mind to authority figures while maintaining your poise can be a challenge. Fortunately, people can learn to engage in assertive behaviors and unlearn more aggressive or non-assertive behaviors.

Parents and teachers are particularly prone to miscommunication when talking about a child’s problem. The parent may become distressed and say something which the teacher interprets as criticism. Communication breaks down and the likelihood of cooperation decreases. Parents have a better chance of engaging in a cooperative problem-solving discussion if they react supportively to what the teacher is saying. This may not come easily if you’re angry or upset, but will help maintain open communication.

Dr. Shore, a psychologist, teaches part-time at Rutgers in New Jersey. He has authored six books and created a film series on bullying. To learn more, visit his website or send him an email.

How do you effectively talk with your child's teacher? Have you found ways of being assertive without being aggressive? Share your parent-teacher communication tips below.