What Can Parents Do When They Get 'The Call' From School?

by Kimberly Valzania
kids' bad behavior
UberImages / iStock

Most of us have been there at least once. We get the call from the school. Maybe it’s the principal, or maybe it’s the teacher. Either way, our precious cherub has done something wrong. He or she has made a (gasp!) mistake that warranted a phone call home.

What’s your reaction? Do you want all the details? Do you immediately defend your child before listening to the facts? Do you ask questions like, “Well, what made him do it?” because you can’t imagine that your child is capable of doing anything wrong at school without provocation? How do you handle it, and who do you believe?

The call can knock the wind right out of our sails. It’s embarrassing. We may take it to heart because we feel that our children are a complete reflection of our parenting. We think that when they do something wrong, it means that we are doing something wrong. And maybe, in some cases, we are. But could it be that the biggest thing we are doing wrong is the way we are choosing to react to their bad behavior? Instead of understanding that mistakes are part of growing up and that our kids should own their mistakes, some of us want to immediately deflect, defend, or justify them. And this often hurts instead of helps.

What can we do when we get the call?

Stay calm, cool, and collected.

The initial communication and description of the “crime” can be like a punch to the stomach for most parents. It’s important to stay calm. Remember that you did not commit the offense, your child did. Try not to laugh it off as no big deal. Remaining cool and collected is the key to dealing with the teacher or the administrator in an effective and proactive manner. It’s our job, after all, to stay in control and not equate their mishaps with our own parenting insecurities. Teachers and administrators don’t like making the call as much as we don’t like receiving it.

Believe the teacher or the administrator.

Hear the story. Get the facts. It’s important to entertain the possibility that your child may lie through their teeth to get out of facing any consequences. Newsflash: All kids lie sometimes. They will lighten the story to make it seem like it wasn’t a big deal. They will stretch the truth and supply a multitude of excuses. Or they will exaggerate their lack of involvement to get the desired lenient response. And they often simply omit crucial details. Good kids do this because they do not want to disappoint their parents.

Get the facts and avoid entertaining the reasons why it happened. (You can talk about those later.) The focus should remain on addressing the specific action or behavior.

Believe your child too.

It’s okay to hash out the circumstances, but we must demand honesty. Make your child own their mistake. Accountability is a key building block of becoming an adult, and the time to teach it is during these moments. Dismiss any other child involved from the equation because it’s your child that you are concerned with, and your child is your responsibility.

Agree to the punishment.

It’s important to present a united front with children. If the teacher says no recess for a week, with a written letter of apology, then that is exactly what your child must do — even if they miss some fun things. No exceptions and no negotiations. You are not your child’s lawyer. You can certainly add your own sanctions at home, but don’t go overboard unless the crime is huge. Let the punishment stand at school. After all, your child didn’t commit the infraction at home.

Talk about natural consequences.

If you are catching wind that your child isn’t exactly an angel, it’s a good idea to have a long talk with them about natural consequences. When Billy brings up the fact that no one will play with him at recess, remind him that maybe it’s because he hogs the ball all the time. When Susie is upset that the other girls don’t invite her to play, remind her that maybe she should stop teasing them. Do this lovingly, of course.

As much as we hate labels, people aren’t labeled as class clowns, liars, cheaters, or bullies for absolutely no reason. Pay attention to how your child is acting in social situations. Natural consequences for detrimental behavior may take a little while, but they do tend to work.

Come up with strategies.

Some kids act out when they are frustrated, or if they feel like they aren’t being heard. If they are having learning or social difficulties, it’s sometimes easier for them to get into trouble or disrupt the lesson so that they don’t have to do the work. Figure out the root of the behavior without excusing it and come up with strategies to help. Insecurities and anxiety are often prerequisites for some types of bad behavior at school. But a child still must learn what’s acceptable and what’s not. Working with (instead of against) teachers and administrators is a key strategy for correcting behavior.

Childhood is the time to make mistakes. Fighting, lying, bullying, cheating, pranking, or disrupting class are just a few of the offenses a “good kid” can make on both a big and a small scale. When we stop viewing their bad behavior as a reflection of ourselves, we can help them learn and grow up to be respectful adults. It’s our job, after all, to remain calm and not equate their mishaps with our own parenting insecurities.

Kids need to own their mistakes. Being a strong and effective parent means we must seize opportunities to correct them (in a loving way) instead of making excuses, defending, or deflecting their bad behavior.