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Guiding Primary School Teachers Through Difficult Conversations: A Psychologist's Perspective

Navigating conversations about a child's developmental concerns is a delicate task for primary school teachers. As psychologists, we are in a unique position to support teachers as they prepare to discuss observations of potential developmental issues, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Specific Learning Disorders, and Intellectual Disabilities, with parents. This blog post aims to offer insights and strategies from a psychologist's perspective to assist teachers in managing these conversations with empathy, precision, and support for both the child and their family.

Through collaboration and empathy, we can create a supportive network around each child, promoting their well-being and success - Cindy Parsons

A femail teacher in red floral dress smiling at a male and female student at their desk

Understanding the Impact of Early Observations

Early identification of developmental concerns is crucial in providing children with the support they need to thrive. Teachers play a critical role in this process, and their observations are often the first step towards intervention. Understanding the weight of this responsibility is essential in preparing for and navigating these conversations.

Strategies for Preparation

  1. Gather Comprehensive Observations: Identifying relevant information to collect as the Teacher is the first step in preparing to have tricky conversations with parents. Detailed observations of the child's behaviour, learning patterns, and social interactions is a great starting point to start vital discussions regarding specific concerns with parents. We have tips for gathering evidence here.

  2. Promote Knowledge of Developmental Variabilities: Teachers understanding of typical child development assists in identifying children’s development or children’s behaviours that are outside of the typical. Chatting to peers and special educators and using online resources to develop an understanding of signs of various disorders can enhance confidence and credibility when discussing your concerns with parents. 

Managing Anxiety

The prospect of discussing developmental concerns with parents can be daunting. Supports can include:

  1. Reframe the Conversation: Seeing these tricky conversations as an opportunity to support the child's learning and development can assist in managing anxiety. The conversation is on how something you have observed is impacting on the child’s learning, development or social understanding. Parents like you want the best outcomes and supports for their child. 

  2. Peer support: Having peers to talk to regarding your concerns for tricky conversations, providing reassurance and guidance. Seeking support from leadership can also help, they are experienced in having tricky conversations with parents and children. 

  3. Self-Care: Remember to look after your own well-being to maintain clarity and calmness in your interactions with parents.

Facilitating the Conversation

  1. Appropriate Setting: Identify a private, quiet space for the meeting, emphasizing the need for confidentiality and undivided attention.

  2. Communication Techniques: starting conversations with positive observations about the child’s strengths before moving on to express concerns. Use “I” statements and provide specific examples to illustrate the observable behaviours or delays you are concerned about.

  3. Non Diagnostic Language: The conversation should focus on your observed concerns without the use of diagnostic language with recommendations for further evaluation by professionals for formal diagnosis if appropriate.

  4. Active Listening: Teachers are will versed in the skill of active listening, validating the parents' feelings and concerns, which can foster a more open and collaborative dialogue.


As psychologists supporting primary school teachers, our role is to empower them to have meaningful and productive conversations with parents about developmental concerns. By providing teachers with the right tools, strategies, and support, we can help ensure that these conversations are conducted with care, leading to positive outcomes for the child, their family, and the school community. Through collaboration and empathy, we can create a supportive network around each child, promoting their well-being and success.

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