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Simple Tips for Sensory Smart Communication with Your Child’s School

It’s easy to become stressed out about not knowing how your child is faring at school. That’s true even if your child is doing online schooling and you’re doing some monitoring of their learning. Effective communication with your child’s teachers can help you address problems early. Here are some simple tips that can help.

Learn how the teachers prefer to communicate. If possible, use their preferred methods. Meeting them halfway by emailing instead of texting or setting a specific time to talk over the phone or an app makes their job easier. It also helps them feel more open to hearing any requests, complaints, or constructive criticisms.

Keep notes and send an email or text to follow up on face-to-face in-person or virtual space conversations. You want to be clear that you and the teacher(s) came away with the same understanding of what to do moving forward. It’s also good to have a paper trail if the problem should escalate.

Breathe. Try to stay calm if you feel yourself getting upset over a problem your child is having with learning. The 4-7-8 breath, created by Dr. Andrew Weil, is just one of many breathing techniques that can cue your brain to turn on what’s called a parasympathetic nervous response: It messages your cells and organs to relax your body so that emotions like anger and fear don’t hijack your brain and body. Try it a few times in a row and notice how much calmer you feel.

Don’t assume. As the old joke goes, “assuming makes an ass out of you and me.” Don’t assume your child or the teacher is telling “the right” version of an event. Perceptions can differ. Listen carefully as you ask your child and the teacher questions to learn more about any problematic incidents. Repeat back what they said: “So if I’m hearing you right {restate what they told you.} Is that correct?” Hearing their own words repeated back to them gives your child and the teacher a chance to clarify if they misspoke. When you have clarity on both sides of the story, you’ll be in a better position to react appropriately with effective actions and words.

Try expressing your emotions using “I” language. It may feel unnatural at first, but if you need to express your feelings to the teacher to emphasize what you’re requesting, try “I” language rather than saying, “You make me so angry” or “You’re frustrating me because…” For example, you might start with the circumstances that make you upset and then use “I” language to express your emotion: “When you tell me that my son isn’t focusing enough and is fidgety, I get upset because I told you this at the beginning of the school year in our conversation that he has a high need for movement and his fidgeting actually helps him to focus. And his IEP states that he is allowed to use his fidgets when he is listening to you speak.”

Remember that teachers, students, and parents are all stressed right now. By giving your child and the teacher the benefit of the doubt as you gather more information and carefully consider your words, you make it easier for everyone to feel less stressed as you troubleshoot problems.

Establish and stick to a communication routine. Know when you’re going to check in with your child to see how school is going. I chose Saturday mornings to go through all my son’s recorded schoolwork (such as worksheets) and read every message from the school that I hadn’t read on Tuesday, which is when the school always sent me a weekly packet of information. Be sure your family has one shared calendar and that everyone checks it every morning as well as on the weekend to familiarize yourself with what’s coming up next week. Automated routines, whether they use a paper calendar in the kitchen or an app everyone shares, can reduce a lot of stress around school-related communication.

Be gentle with yourself. If you lose your temper with your child or forget to read a note the teacher sent home, give yourself a break. Learning is more important than one forgotten homework assignment. Plus, that foul-up offers a learning activity: You and your child can work together to figure out what went wrong in your routine and get practice and remaining calm as you problem-solve and communicate. You have a chance to teach your child that we all make mistakes and we all get angry, anxious, or upset, but we can find ways to express those emotions without unduly hurting other people or being harsh with ourselves. Being kind to ourselves is a skill and practice many people have yet to master, and it can be difficult for very sensitive, perfectionistic children (and parents!) to develop.

You’ll find more sensory smart tips, strategies, resources, and information in the award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues, available at booksellers everywhere.

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1 Comment

Mason William
Mason William
Oct 25, 2021

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