Fundamental to partnership is the nature and style of communication. Yet limited time and the stress of running a busy early childhood service can get in the way of clear and supportive communication. Here are some quick tips on communicating with parents:
Let parents know that you are available for them and that you value any opinions or concerns they raise. Listening well is one way of showing you mean it.
- Stop what you are doing and look at the parent when they're talking to you.
- Let them know you are listening and interested by nodding or saying, ‘Uh huh’ occasionally.
- Let the other person finish talking then summarise what they said, and check that you understood correctly.
- Check on the feeling as well as the content of what’s said. For example, ‘Am I right in saying that you felt distressed about that incident?’
- Use open-ended questions to ask for additional information if you need it. Open-ended questions give the person a chance to expand on what they are saying rather than just saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’; for example, ‘What did you mean by saying he was mucking up?’
- Try to understand the perspective of the speaker, even if you disagree with what they are saying. Put yourself in their shoes.
The way we communicate to parents will either encourage partnerships or get parents offside. A partnership works best when messages are clear, specific and considerate of the other person’s feelings. Always talk to a parent with the goal of strengthening your relationship.
- When we are rushed or get ‘caught out’, we may say things that we later regret. It is OK to pause. If you’re not confident about saying something sensitive, arrange a time when you can talk together with less pressure.
- Use ‘I’ messages: talk about how you are feeling about the situation rather than focusing on what you want the parent to do about it or blaming the parent.
- Be specific by describing what you see and when you see it. If you didn’t observe a problem yourself, say so.
- Keep your comments in the present; do not bring up issues from the past. If the issue keeps happening, then move on to finding a solution.
Raising concerns with parents
- Be open and honest with parents, and talk about problems when they come up. Problems usually don’t go away by themselves and if you leave them to escalate they may be more difficult to repair later.
- Make an appointment to discuss concerns. Be prepared for the meeting and have a clear agenda of what you want to discuss.
- Give the parent accurate information on what you observe.
- Explain exactly what the issue is and why it might be a concern.
- Check what parent thinks about the issue and whether they are concerned about it. Ask if they experience the same kind of issues at home.
- If you can, add some knowledge about the nature of the problem. For example, ‘Many prep children are tired by this time of the day. Starting school is an exhausting experience’. Parents are more likely to help develop a solution if they understand the nature of the problem.
- Own the issue and emphasise that you have the child’s best interests in mind. If the concern is something about a child’s behaviour while they are in your care, then it's your responsibility to develop a solution. Reassure the parent you can work on the issue, but invite them to help with the solution. For example, you might say something like ‘Biting other children is very common in children of Ben’s age. It doesn’t mean he is bad or aggressive. We have ways of helping children learn how to get what they want without biting, but in our experience it always helps to work with a child’s parents to find the best approach for an individual child.’
- When you are communicating difficult issues, be prepared to offer a range of solutions as well. Offering solutions is a consultative process. Ask for the parent’s opinion. Brainstorm as many solutions as possible, then jointly evaluate the pros and cons of each solution.
Dealing with concerns that parents raise
- Listen to the parent’s concerns.
- Avoid responding with immediate explanations or justifications; it's important that the parents feel that their concerns have been heard.
- Show an interest in the parent's welfare as well as the child's.
- Show enthusiasm at any attempt the parent makes to help with the problem.
- Offering solutions is a consultative process. Ask for the parent’s opinion. Brainstorm as many solutions as possible, then jointly evaluate the pros and cons of each solution.
- Sometimes it may be hard to find a solution. You do not need to find a solution every time. When problem solving is not possible, you may be able to help by simply listening to the parent. Notice the attitudes and feelings expressed in the message, and tell the person exactly what you heard them say in terms of feelings and attitudes.
- Sometimes, despite using all these skills, issues still cannot be resolved. If that happens, tell the parent about your organisation’s grievance procedure and make sure they know how to use it.