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Parent To Parent: Our Kids And The Schools

By: Susan Hess, March 2006, revised October 2006

This Tip Sheet is for PARENTS of children with mental health problems.  It includes suggestions and practical advice for helping your child get the services or supports he or she needs.


For all children, school is their social and business environment.

For kids with mental health challenges, however, it is within the school environment that they often come up against serious or significant frustrations and lack of understanding.  Often our youth are categorized as “the behaviour problem…the bad kid…the lazy one.  “Children’s mental health is not well understood by most of the population.  It is not surprising, therefore, that many (not all, but many) school personnel do not understand.

For both parents and youth, dealing with school personnel who do not understand the issue is daunting.

It takes consistent and persistent reminders to the school staff (principals and teachers alike), that our child / youth’s behaviours are symptoms of an underlying cause, which might happen to be a mental health problem, and that our kids’ behaviours are the result of this underlying cause.

BE AWARE [a good rule of thumb]
If your child is in a “behaviour modification” program and his/her behaviour does not improve after an eight to twelve week period, then the cause of the behaviour is more deeply rooted.

It is important to continue to work at discovering the “root cause” underlying this behaviour, to put in place the appropriate supports and help for your youngster.


  1. Keep a journal
  • This journal is to help you keep personal records so you can have informed discussions with the school personnel.
  • In this journal, document your child’s behaviours, what happens prior to the behaviour, what happens afterward, in as much detail as possible, to have the basis for good discussions.
  • Also, in this journal, document every meeting: date, time, location, who is present, the reason for the meeting, the discussion, requests (yours and theirs), expectations, decisions/outcomes, next steps.
  • In the quiet of your own space, review your notes, add further comments or list questions you want to ask next time.

Note:  You may want to keep a separate journal to record your emotions and feelings.  This will keep your emotions separate from the documentation you need to support your child.  Having a record of how you felt may also be useful when you are writing letters or briefing notes to describe your child.

  1.    Meetings

  • If you call the meeting, create an agenda and lead the meeting.
  • Be prepared – bring your journal, your records, suspension letters etc.
  • Bring your child’s picture and place it at the head of the table, so that everyone in the meeting will be aware of whom this meeting is about.
  • Always bring at least one person with you to the meeting for support.  Be sure that this person has a role to play in the meeting, e.g. child psychiatrist, social worker, to be able to clearly explain your child’s needs
  • Ask many questions.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for clarifications.
  • Ask permission to record the meetings, so that you can transcribe them for your records.  Be sure though that you ask permission to do this first.
  • Remember to record everything in your journal.


Trust your intuition.  If you have concerns about your child’s behaviours in school, keep advocating for your child until you are satisfied that your child is receiving the help that he or she needs in school.

There is nothing to be ashamed of if your child has a mental health problem.  Continue to speak clearly for your child, and gather a group of “champions” around you who can also be a part of your voice.

Remember… you are your child’s best advocate!


About Susan Hess:

Susan Hess is a speaker, mother, widow, and award-winning volunteer, Susan Hess has the ability to move audiences to both laughter and tears with stories of children and their families who have faced the challenge of mental health problems in children.

Past Volunteer President of Parents for Children’s Mental Health, Susan is available to speak to groups of all types about the impact of children’s mental health problems on the children and their families.

(permission to reproduce granted S.Hess – Nov. 2008)