By Mary Pat McCartney of the American School Counseling Asociation
One of the responsibilities of being a school counselor is to help parents help their children. Although most of our time is spent as a resource for students and staff at school, we also deal with concerns from parents about a child’s behavior at home. How do school counselors effectively handle a parent’s request for help? What are some guidelines that could be followed when school counselors respond to parental calls for behavioral advice and/or support? This article will delineate some general “how-to’s” that can serve as a quick reference for school counselors to use when helping parents improve a child’s behavior.
It is impossible to predict the various types of phone calls and emails counselors might receive from parents concerning their child’s actions at home. The problems can cover a wide range of topics. The following comments represent typical concerns:
School counselors can approach behavior concerns presented by parents in much the same way that we approach a teacher’s request for assistance with behavior concerns in class. Our work sometimes involves developing intervention plans to assist with improving student work habits and conduct. Traditionally, we use various counseling techniques (individually and in small groups) to motivate a student to change his or her behavior. Checklists, charts, teacher cues, self-monitoring devices, desktop reminders, incentives, and weekly check-ins are all strategies that a school counselor might use when responding to a teacher’s request to help with a student behavior problem at school. Strategies for home can also parallel strategies used at school. Parents, with the help of the counselor, can successfully implement some of the same types of plans.
There is a basic approach to handling a parent question about their child's home behavior. Generally speaking, the following steps can serve as a guide for counselors:
Effective parenting is not synonymous with perfect parenting. No parent can be expected to raise a responsible child without ever having to deal with a problem. Remind the parent that parenting can be challenging. It is important to use the resources available to help with solving problems. Most concerns might be categorized into three main issues: lack of motivation and/or low self-esteem, poor peer interactions, and non-compliance with authority. Whatever the problem, however, it’s helpful to keep in mind some basic parenting principles. The list below represents some key points to review with a parent who calls for advice.
Clearly state the behavior you expect.
Catch them being “good.”
Let them know you understand their feelings.
Actively listen by giving full attention, describing the situation, and naming the child’s feeling. Remember, behavior is what we do with our feelings. Children must be taught appropriate ways of expressing their feelings.
Set appropriate limits.
State clear, simple rules and post them on the refrigerator. Follow through quickly and consistently. Develop consequences (such as lose a privilege, go to Time-Out, etc.)
Teach children appropriate behaviors.
This can be done by:
School counselors should also emphasize with parents the importance of communication. Parents are busy with work and household responsibilities. Children are busy with homework assignments and outside activities (soccer, scouts, karate, piano lessons, etc.) Face-to-face opportunities for parents and children to talk and listen to each other may be scarce. Encourage parents to schedule a daily, or at least weekly, time for communicating with each child in the family. For some families, the bedtime routine provides the perfect time for the parent and child to listen to each other.
The Family Meeting is a powerful communication tool. It’s a means of strengthening family relationships and cooperation. Family meetings help families feel like a “team” where people help each other. Making time for regular meetings requires an examination of every family member’s schedule and finding the times when everyone is free. It’s important to meet regularly -- not just in response to a crisis or argument. In that way, the family might be able to prevent small problems from getting bigger. They can also defer the discussion of certain problems by adding them to an agenda between meetings. The family meeting can teach children about respect and problem solving. It can create a climate in which members will work and grow together.
Listed below are some guidelines for conducting family meetings.
Our main focus as school counselors is on student performance in school. As school counselors, however, we all know how improving the student’s behavior at home can have positive implications for school success. That is why we conduct parenting workshops and list parent tips in our newsletters and web pages. Supporting parents in the important work of child development has benefits for all.