mother with children  together at home

When it comes to understanding classroom and home life for students with special needs, Kristie and Barb have the inside view. Kristie trains and guides teachers in classrooms across the US who are trying to figure out some the most challenging situations. Barb gets into the nitty-gritty of challenging behaviors at home with parents with children with severe sensory issues and autism. We come together because we are uniquely qualified to discuss the absolute importance of communication between home and school.

We know each side and the very fact that there should be no sides!

We are keenly aware of the ups, downs, and side-ways of many attempts to communicate that result in both wonderful growth in students as well as tense legal battles that leave everyone frustrated, deflated, exhausted, and unsuccessful.

Yes, our goal is for everyone to “be on the same page,” and support one another in their heartfelt and mindful attempts to guide children of all ages. However, we go beyond the dream, and get to the “how to.”

No one we know of has gone into teaching for the money. We become teachers because we are compassionate and committed to children and families. Similarly, parents become parents out of a deep sense of commitment and love.

Somehow, somewhere along the way however, when behaviors flare, we forget how much each of us cares. Or maybe we too quickly assume the other does not have *this* child’s best interest at heart.

When tensions rise…communication breaks down.

When teachers, professionals, and parents come together on behalf of a child, about a child’s challenging behavior (a child’s response to stressors), the child benefits greatly.

That said, we all can benefit from tips for communicating openly and without judgement, and for creating plans for better days ahead, both at home and at school.

If you have a child in your classroom or at home that is exhibiting challenging behaviors, call, text, or set a meeting with the important people in the child’s life.

And here are 7 easy questions to guide your discussions with one another!

  1. Is it developmental? Parents come from very different professions. Some may be accountants, others may be grocery clerks. They may need assistance to learn about typical and atypical development. Parents, ask your teachers for resources and/or information on what to expect at different stages in development. Teachers, share what you know about development and learning, particularly as it relates to understanding how children respond to stress and how skills like self-regulation emerge. Try not to assume negative intent, just a need for information.
  2. Should we be concerned? Both teachers and parents should come from an open minded place when discovering the WHY a behavior is happening. Ask questions. Consider whether this child is experiencing something in the classroom that is not at home that may be environmental (e.g., sensory overload, allergies to carpets, fear of balloons).
  3. What do we see? Take the time to observe the child in multiple environments. This may sound daunting for teachers, but today, most people have smart phones with video options. Ask parents if they are comfortable video taping interactions at home that you may find helpful for either guiding parents understanding OR better understanding about other types of guidance that might work better for a child in your classroom. Consider asking a parent to come observe their child in the classroom (this can be tricky if a child responds differently, of course). Or ask your administrators if you can videotape your classroom when the behaviors happen – for your own review and processing what might be occurring.
  4. Can we modify the environment? We often forget that we can simply modify an environment to eliminate a behavior or safety concern. At school, consider modifying the schedule, offer breaks, create clear visual boundaries between activity areas. There are a few basic environmental arrangements that can really help lessen any child’s anxiety that leads to behaviors. Share what works with parents. Consider sharing an article about how modifying the environment can support a child (or anyone) in feeling more organized, understanding expectations, feeling seen, safe, secure, and soothed.
  5. Are we stressed? Children read your stress levels and tension faster than we can even imagine. They respond to our tone, our tense bodies, and our facial expressions, whether we think they are paying attention or not. Take a moment or two or three to settle your own system down either across settings or in the setting where the challenging behavior occurs. Just by taking a breath and sitting down can make a world of difference for a child. If a child is in the middle of a chaotic storm of behavior, getting ramped up yourself is ONLY going to make it worse. Get the child, others, and yourself safe, take a deep breath, and sit down if you can…it will help the storm to pass.
  6. Are we assuming positive intent? Take a moment to ask yourself, and each other, if you think the child is trying to manipulate you or others. Children do well if they can. Children strive to do well. Children do not try to intentionally manipulate you. Assume your child or student is trying to engage, to understand, to participate… but for some reason, they cannot. They are struggling. Come from a place of assuming they want to do well but need your help not shaming, yelling, or consequences. They need guidance and support.
  7. Are we open to experimenting? Addressing challenging behaviors in humans is tough work. Humans are complicated and emotional. If you think that a behavior is going to be “fixed” easily, you will most likely be disappointed. Together, figure out why a behavior is occurring, collaborate to create a draft plan of action, and then experiment with what works and does not work.

Open minded communication between home and school about what is working and not working is key to guiding a child to decreasing challenging behaviors.

Related Resources

  • Five more tools for your toolbox on supporting the social-emotional health and well-being of children (access to an interactive handout from the 33rd annual DEC conference in Portland, OR, from our session, “Why Can’t They Just Behave“)
  • Six tip sheets from the “Calming the Chaos Classroom Series” [link to learn more]
  • Six training videos and worksheets from the “Calming the Chaos Home Edition” [link to learn more]