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How to Talk to Teachers About Classroom Discipline

The rules at home aren’t always the same as the ones in school. Here’s how to handle it when someone else corrects your child’s behavior.

Disciplining your child is tough enough. But when kids reach school age, it’s not just parents who are responsible for ensuring the youngsters follow the rules. For nearly half of your child’s waking hours, a teacher is the one overseeing his activities and informing the decisions he makes. So what happens if your idea of acceptable behavior differs from the classroom rules? And how should you respond if your kid tells you his teacher isn’t being fair?

Different House, Different Rules
One of the most important things for kids to understand is that the rules at home and at school may not always be in agreement — and that’s OK. “Don’t try to reconcile it,” says Denver-based Nancy S. Buck, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and author of How to Be a Great Parent. “Kids need to learn to adapt. For instance, my kids’ school announced they had a new rule: No hats. At home, hats are not a problem. So of course, all the kids rebelled. Your goal as a parent is to work within school rules to help your child get closer to what he wants.” Maybe that means your child wears a hat to and from school, or wears it during recess if allowed. The point is, don’t call the rule into question: A rule is a rule, but there might be ways to make it a little more palatable to your child.

MORE: How to Discipline Kids in a Car

Become a Team
You and your child’s teacher may have different ideas about discipline, and you may even be convinced that your child has a bad teacher, but both of you want your child to succeed. “All teachers want their students to achieve success in the classroom — it is a reflection of their work,” says Buck, who encourages parents to talk with teachers about differing expectations. “A teacher might say, ‘These are my rules,’ and that’s fine. That allows me to then say, ‘OK, Johnny and I will practice this behavior at home.’ It doesn’t necessarily mean you agree, but when your child is in the classroom, he needs to know how to behave according to the classroom rules.”

Get to the Bottom of Indiscretions 
While it’s natural for a teacher to call out inappropriate classroom behavior, the best way to discipline is to figure out what’s driving those actions. “Let’s say your son is in class and wants to talk with his friend,” says Buck. “They’re whispering and laughing and the teacher tells them to stop. Maybe she has them change seats. But they keep it up. Now the teacher has had it and she takes away recess.” At home, ask your son why it is so important to talk with his friend during class. Then ask him why he thinks his teacher wants him to remain quiet. After considering both sides, inquire: Is there a way he can work together with his teacher so they’re both happy? “Your goal as a parent is to help your child manage relationships — whether with another adult or his peers — successfully, so he can get along in the world,” says Buck.

ALSO: The Biggest Lie Parents Tell Themselves About Discipline

Make School a Positive Experience
Research suggests that when children feel good about their school environment, they are far less likely to have behavior issues. So working with his teacher to create a positive classroom experience could be a fastest route to improving a child’s behavior. Buck likens it to playing a school sport. “The coach will tell the kids, ‘If you don’t come to practice you don’t play in the game,’” she says. “Kids might not like going to practice, but they love the game and they quickly learn that if they want to play, they have to follow the coach’s rules.” Similarly, she says, if kids look forward to certain aspect of the classroom experience, they’re more likely to do what the teachers asking of them. Work with your child’s teacher to reinforce the things your kid does right. Praise good behavior, talk about better solutions for less-than-optimal actions, and bit by bit the need to discipline — on your part or the teacher’s — will diminish.

Read more of Fatherly’s stories on discipline, behavior, and communication.