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Hope and Health

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Hope & Health
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05/3/2024 | Jonathan Perle, PhD, ABPP

11 Tips for Successfully Collaborating with Your Child’s Teacher for Mental Healthcare

May is an important month for schools as we honor teachers through both National Teacher Day and National Teacher Appreciation Week. These events exist to recognize the important contribution teachers make toward our children’s education as well as each child’s overall emotional, behavioral, and social adjustment. While the goal is healthy development, children often face unexpected mental health-related challenges.

How common are these issues? Unfortunately, very common. According to global reports from 2019, of the 2,516 million individuals studied, 6.8 percent of children aged 5-to-9 years and 12.4 percent of those aged 10-to-14 years had at least one diagnosed mental health disorder (Kieling et al., 2024). In English, this means about 1 in 20 children aged 5 to 9 and 1 in 10 children aged 10-14 have at least one diagnosed mental health disorder.

As part of their treatment, children and their families often complete psychosocial therapies with mental health professionals, such as psychologists, counselors, and social workers. However, a reality of mental health is that the associated issues don’t stay just in the clinic or home where the child’s parents have the most control and ability to help. That would be too simple, right? Rather, the mental health issues can present anywhere a child is, including school. Due to this, extending the therapies to schools, the place where children spend most of their day every week, is essential.

We’ve all heard stories about how families and schools become at odds over how to best help the kiddos. As such, the question becomes – how can families successfully collaborate with teachers to ensure everyone is working together to help the child?

Tips for You as a Parent/Caregiver

  1. Establish a team approach with the teacher. While all teachers want to help children, mental health-related issues within the classroom can stump even the most seasoned teacher. Ensure the teacher knows he/she is not “in it alone.” A teacher who understands you are working with them and are also using the therapy skills can feel supported and motivated as part of the child’s team.
  2. Defer to the teacher as the classroom expert. While you may be ready to educate the teacher about all things mental health following a meeting with your mental healthcare provider, remember it’s still the teacher’s classroom. Even if your information is “correct,” going in with an agenda can make teachers feel they need to be on the defensive or as if you are judging their abilities to manage their classroom. Instead, explain that you truly appreciate all the teacher’s efforts to help your child, but you’ve learned from healthcare specialists that your kiddo needs a little extra, very specific help.
  3. Discuss and demonstrate the use of the skills. As therapy techniques can often sound simple on the surface but be difficult to use in the moment, provide the teacher with concrete and real-world examples from your home on how the skills have been helpful. In this way, you can give the teacher specific examples of how you applied techniques, how you adapted them if they did not work, and what the teacher can expect in terms of outcomes.
  4. Ensure teachers understand the details of the skills. When explaining skills to teachers, it’s important they not only understand what to do, but why they are doing it. Understanding the why can help teachers know how to problem-solve issues and has been found to keep teachers using the techniques long-term. If the teacher doesn’t understand why they are doing something or doesn’t see rapid improvement, they may stop use due to thinking it didn’t work. As some skills can take days to weeks to really work effectively, spending some time to explain the details of the skills can help prevent issues.
  5. Foster positive expectations. As teachers often try many techniques to help children before parents even get involved, it can be defeating when they don’t work. When introducing the techniques, foster positive expectations by explaining a belief the techniques will work and, better yet, have worked within your home. As a result, you are both saying and showing confidence that if the teacher consistently uses the techniques, they will also be helpful in the classroom.
  6. Avoid making too many requests at once. Teachers are very busy with multiple other children. Unfortunately, healthcare providers don’t always consider this. As such, if the healthcare provider gives a laundry list of things for the school to do to help your child, try to focus requests to the teacher on the most important things that need to be done. You can always ask for more later once the most essential techniques are in place.
  7. Seek teacher feedback. Ask what the teacher thinks of the treatment recommendations for the classroom and whether they think any changes need to be made. Remember, since it is their classroom, they likely have good insights into their students, as well as ideas about how to help them. This will not only help gather more information but show that you respect the teacher’s opinions to continue fostering a team approach.
  8. Build a means for check-ins. As it will be important for both you and your healthcare team to know how your kiddo is doing in school, collaborate with the teacher to establish the most effective and least intrusive way for you to communicate. This can include more intensive ways like a scheduled video or phone call, or simple ways such as a brief text message through a school app, an email, a brief note in the student’s agenda/notebook, a check mark next to a list of behaviors, or different stamps on the student’s hand to signify different behaviors. Of important note, you want to hear the good behavior, not only the bad. This will allow you to encourage the good and problem-solve the issues. Only hearing about the “bad days” can lead children to feel their efforts for positive behavior in the classroom were wasted, as their family didn’t even know they did well.
  9. Ask how you can support the teacher. To show a team approach, ask what you can do to help the teacher and the school.
  10. Be open to feedback. While healthcare providers know what they’d like to see done, things change as techniques are used in real life. As such, the teacher’s feedback is vital. Ask for feedback about the techniques and what the teacher thinks is going good or bad so you can update your healthcare team.
  11. Be patient. Just as you likely weren’t an expert the first time you used therapeutic techniques, neither will the teacher. Just as you and your child got better at using the recommended techniques over time, so will the teacher.

While not an exhaustive list, the above tips have been found helpful at building an alliance between the home and the school, and thus helping children. Remember, it’s often not what you do, but how you do it that’s most important.

Mental Health Questions or Referrals?

For questions or concerns regarding a child, adolescent, or teenager with signs of mental health issues, please reach out to the WVU Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry at 304-598-4214 or find us at:


Lawrence-Lightfoot, S. (2004). The essential conversation: What parents and teachers can learn from each other. Ballantine Books.


Kieling, C., Buchweitz, C., Caye, A., Silvani, J., Ameis, S. H., Brunoni, A. R., Cost, K. T., Courtney, D. B., Georgiades, K., Merikangas, K. R., Henderson, J. L., Polanczyk, G. V., Rohde, L. A., Salum, G. A., & Szatmari, P. Worldwide prevalence and disability from mental disorders across childhood and adolescence: Evidence from the global burden of disease study. JAMA Psychiatry, Advance online publication.

About the Author

Jonathan Perle, PhD, ABPP, is a board-certified clinical child and adolescent psychologist, associate professor, director of telepsychology, director of the ADHD Assessment Clinic, and director of the Parent Management Training Clinic within the Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry at the WVU School of Medicine. He has significant experience providing youth-focused clinical assessment and intervention within diverse clinical settings (e.g., medical centers, primary care, schools, university clinics) and roles (e.g., interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, outpatient, inpatient). In addition to his current responsibilities that include teaching, supervising, and conducting research, Dr. Perle provides both face-to-face and virtual psychological care.

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