Anna McCallum explores how to engage positively with parents, creating partnerships rather than conflicts.
Like myself, you almost certainly have daily face-to-face interactions with parents.
This can be a wonderful experience as you build on your relationships and work together to help their children to develop, but it can also be challenging. As practitioners we are entrusted to look after someone’s most precious asset — their child— which naturally is a matter that generates strong differences of opinion.
This begs the questions, what is the best way to manage and resolve possible conflicts with parents?
Ultimately parents will know what is best for their child and I am not here to say otherwise, however as childcare professionals it is often our duty to inform parents about an issue that our training and experience will mean we know more about. We receive years of training, which is continuously refreshed, and are up to date on the latest policies within the industry. We work hard to gain qualifications that equip us in providing quality support and assistance to children as they develop, but sometimes the knowledge of this alone is not enough.
It is not easy to explain to anyone that there might be something more they can be doing to help their child’s success, but frankly, sometimes it is our job to do so. To make this challenging experience that little bit easier you must start the first interaction with a parent.
From day one we not only need to build a positive relationship with the child, but also with the parent. By getting to know them, being compassionate, and creating a genuine bond, we know we can discuss important matters with them and it will not result in an altercation. Instead they will be more likely to value our input, appreciate our knowledge, and respect our decisions.
One of the most daunting subjects to discuss with a parent is if we notice a child’s development is falling behind. It is an incredibly sensitive subject to bring up and never easy.
I find by providing a solution-based proposal we are instantly shedding a positive light on a very disconcerting topic. Rather than bombarding them with information and overwhelming the parent, keep it as light as possible.
By explaining that referrals are common practice and that they open the door for extra support should their child need it, it can give them a bit of comfort during an uncertain time. By letting them know they are able to call you at any time, it can give them a sense of relief knowing they can find out more if and when they would like to. By supporting the parents we fundamentally support the child.
I feel another factor to consider is that, unfortunately, some people just love to complain, like they make a hobby of it. They are quick to moan about a bad experience in a restaurant and are less likely to boast about a good one. With these people I would suggest: don’t give them the opportunity! By promoting clear and consistent communication between staff members and parents, things are less likely to go wrong. Almost anytime I’ve ended up apologising to a parent it has been due to lack of communication between staff members, so now I try to encourage effective communication on a daily basis.
The occasional mistake will always be made, human error is, well, human, but that is no excuse and we should never offer one. No one wants to hear excuses, least of all an irritated or worried parent. A long-winded excuse or “I don’t know” is almost guaranteed to rile somebody up even more. By claiming responsibility and starting with an apology we are already on our way to defusing the situation. Staying calm yet authoritative will let parents know you understand but will not be swayed by argumentative behaviour. I try to empathise with their frustration without encouraging it.
I recently found myself having to resolve an issue with a parent about a missing item of clothing (I assume most practitioners can relate?!) We searched everywhere and showed up empty handed. Not what a parent wants to hear.
All that I could do was apologise sincerely, explain we had exhausted all options as to where it could be, and reassure them that we would remain vigilant in case the missing item was to appear. Despite a widely known presumption of not bringing valuable items into nursery, the item was expensive, so they were irate. I feel that I handled it in the best way I could by following my own advice by apologising, giving reassurance, and remaining calm.
By creating a trusting and positive relationship with a parent the children are the ones who will ultimately benefit. If we notice an area of concern we need to be able to reach out to the parents in a professional yet personal manner to get the child whatever it is that they need. From discreetly reminding a parent to pay their bill, to sensitively making a referral, we owe it to the children to take the time to get to know their parents, and to let them know that we too have their child’s best interests at heart.
What are your experiences on challenging experiences with parents and how did you resolve them? Please share your stories and join the conversation using the hashtag #thatnurserylife