Your phone rings. It’s your child’s school calling. Thoughts begin racing in your head:

Is my child sick? They seemed fine this morning.

Shoot—did I forget that I signed up to bring cupcakes to today’s bake sale?

They couldn’t be in trouble…could they?

With trepidation and sweaty palms, you answer the phone. And, to your heart’s dismay, you realize that it was indeed the latter—they are in the principal’s office and you are needed to come to school at day’s end for a meeting.

Like most parents with whom I have interacted over the years, getting a call about your child’s misstep is a surefire way to send your own day into a tailspin. No one wants to think of their kid making an error in judgement, a poor decision, or uttering words or commentary that is unkind or inappropriate.

But, it happens.

Kids are testing boundaries, pushing limits, and seeing what they can get away with. They are going to make choices that go against the integrity you have upheld in your home. They are going to pop off with a snarky remark that goes one step too far within the confines of respect for their teachers or classmates. They are going to bring the action figure to school you told them to leave at home; play with Pokemon cards in class; pass a note to a friend with an off-colored comment that lands in the grasp of their teacher, instead.

They are kids. Their actions are unpredictable, their decision-making often clouded by the impulsivity of proceeding without caution.

Acting first and thinking later.

So, as you sit in your office and fret about what their teacher or administrator wants to discuss with you after school, here are a few tips and tricks for navigating that moment when your child is sent to the principal’s office (a.k.a. my office):

  1. Don’t get defensive. I know that you want to come in and save your child from any peril in which they have found themselves, but reserve judgement and defense of their actions until you have heard the whole story. Don’t approach the meeting with your mind already made up that the school or its student body has it “out” for your kid—more often than not, the mischief in which our children find themselves is partly, if not fully, of their own design.
  2. Be ready to collaborate. When kids act out, they are clearly clamoring for something: attention, academic support, emotional stability, friendship. Be ready to discuss your concerns around where you see your child struggling at home and ask their teachers and administrators to share their perspectives from school. Most often, these are similar, and from that space of commonality, a game plan for rallying around your child in their moments of weakness will be born.
  3. Embrace consequence. As I have told countless students and even more parents—consequence is not a dirty word. It is the result of an action. Some actions warrant positive consequences, but when a fracture in community occurs, consequences that inspire a change in behavior are necessary. Perhaps that is writing letters of apology, completing community service around campus, or taking a day to work in the school’s office to restore that which has been broken. But, don’t balk when a consequence is levied—use it, instead, as a catalyst for communication with your child around how they are going to think, act, and treat others differently moving forward.
  4. Follow-up. Don’t let disciplinary moments live in a vacuum. Stay in contact with your child’s teacher or school’s administration beyond any singular incident or event. Check-in to see how things are going and maintain open lines of communication regarding ongoing feedback or the formation of further strategies to keep your child on track and continuing to grow in empathy and integrity. Educators have a cache of resources that, when applied both in the classroom as well as in the home, can accelerate a child’s social and emotional maturity. Tap into that wisdom.

When it comes to raising kids, the cliché really does ring true—it takes a village. Use pitfalls and potholes along your child’s journey to establish and maintain a partnership with their teachers and principal.

I promise—my office isn’t nearly as scary as you might think.