This article originally appeared in the Sept. 1, 2010, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The start of any new school year can be stressful, but sending your little one off to preschool can be a time filled with many angst-filled questions: How well will my child adjust to preschool? Will my child make friends? Will the teacher understand my child?
Many of those questions may be answered during the interaction known as parent-teacher conferences. Typically, these meetings cover a child's play style and social, language, cognitive, and physical development.
A parent-teacher conference should be a time for listening and communicating openly. Most of the time, a preschool teacher will emphasize your child's strengths. But the parent-teacher conference also offers an opportunity to point out areas in which your child may need special emphasis. For example, a teacher may suggest writing letters, stringing beads, or practicing cutting skills at home to improve fine motor skills.
“Parent-teacher conferences allow parents an insight into their child’s development that they might not otherwise have,” says Dr. Jennifer Ladage, a pediatrician at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. “Parents should look on this as an opportunity to gain new perspectives on their child’s strengths and areas in which they can improve as they prepare for kindergarten and beyond.”
If the teacher has concerns about your child, try not to become defensive. Try to ask direct and focused questions, with the assumption that any problems raised are ones that can be solved. However, because of the limited time of most parent-teacher conferences, it might be wise to schedule a future time when any troublesome issues can be discussed in more detail.
If your work schedule doesn't allow you to attend conferences, or if the preschool doesn't schedule them, you should feel comfortable making arrangements to speak with the teacher at other times. Meeting or talking regularly with the teacher will help you understand your child's progress and demonstrate your interest and cooperation.
If your preschooler complains about the teacher, try to find out the specifics. Often, preschoolers might complain if they're put in time-out or not given a popular classroom job, such as line leader. It's helpful if you support the teacher and talk to your child about following rules or taking turns.
In deciding whether to bring up a problem with a preschool teacher, it's important not to overestimate a preschooler's point of view. If, for example, your toddler complains that "no one plays with me" or "I'm bored" in school, give it some time if it doesn't seem serious.
It's important to form a good relationship with your child's preschool teacher — for both you and your child. Approach the teacher with an open mind and clear, direct questions, so that you can be a part of your child's preschool experience and take pride in your little one's achievements.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon website at www.cardinalglennon.com.