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Handling uncomfortable conversations with parents

Effectively communicating with parents and caregivers of the children in your care is an essential part of the job. Because parents aren’t in the classroom every day, they rely on educators to tell them how their child is managing classroom routines and expectations. In my experience, most parents also want to know how their child is doing and how they can support their child at home.

My cousin shared a story with me about how her son was struggling in one of his middle school classes. Naturally, she wanted to speak with his teacher to better understand the situation so she could help him at home. She tried using the virtual platform the school used, as well as emailing the teacher. However, she never got a response. As a result of the lack of communication, her frustration level increased. I’m sure this educator had a lot on her plate and probably just got busy, but the trust my cousin had in the teacher became broken.

So, how do we have uncomfortable conversations with parents, when we know that not having the conversation isn’t an option?

  • Develop and nurture the relationship with each child’s parent or caregiver. Creating this strong foundation is an incredibly important part of communicating with parents. They want to know that you genuinely care for them and their child. Take the time to get to know them and their expectations so that you share a clear picture for how the year will progress.
  • Perspective is important. Remember, parents are their child’s first educator. Everyone is doing the best they can with the skills they have. You have a great opportunity to collaborate with families to help them learn new skills and best practices regarding their child.
  • Using a platform, such as HiMama, gives you the opportunity to send a message to parents about their child’s day. Daily reporting apps make it easy to prepare parents for a conversation that will happen either at the end of the day, during a conference, or during a phone call. Daily reporting apps also help document conversations and the frequency they occur, making it easy for you to recognize patterns of behavior.
  • Timing is everything. Perhaps drop-off or pick-up isn’t the best time to have a difficult conversation with a parent. Privacy plays an important role when discussing sensitive information with families, so be mindful of discussing information in front of other people. Asking a parent to identify a good time to talk ensures that the conversation happens in an environment that is private and without any distractions.
  • Be mindful about the way you communicate. Your verbal and non-verbal communication should help create a calm and safe space to foster effective communication.
  • Ask questions. When you have more information, you can make better decisions regarding a child’s goals. Questions like “Have you noticed this behavior at home?”, “Has anything changed at home that might be affecting your child’s behavior?”, or “Are there strategies you use at home that would be helpful for us to try at school?”.
  • Have a plan. A friend recently told me about an issue in her daughter’s preschool classroom. The teachers had notified her that another child had been regularly biting her daughter. The teachers obviously did the right thing by notifying both families about the behavior. However, no plan was put in place to help mitigate the frequency of the incidents. When you present parents with a problem, it is essential to have a plan in place to provide solutions to that problem. Creating goals for a child is a great place to start when trying to help children meet their individual milestones.
  • Have resources available that support your plan. For example, if you think that the child might benefit from an early intervention service, have that information available to give to parents.
  • Set up a follow-up meeting with parents. This way, everyone stays on the same page about goals and whether the strategies put into place are working effectively.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There will be times when you don’t know what to do, and that’s okay. If you need the support of a principal, director, or coach, ask for it! Colleagues can be a great support system as well when you are trying to navigate the challenges that occur in the classroom.
  • Remember to tell parents when their child is succeeding! Parents want to hear the good news, too! If you only tell them the things their child is struggling with all the time, they will be less receptive to having those difficult conversations every day.

Uncomfortable conversations can be a source of stress, especially when you don’t know how the other person will react. These strategies can help create a safe and calm environment so the goal of working together to help a child succeed can remain in place.

Additional Resources

A Culture of Collaboration Supports Children’s Learning – YouTube

Refine Communication for Mutual Clarity and Understanding | by Judy Jablon and Nichole Parks | Medium

Casey Sims

Casey earned a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from The University of Alabama and a master’s degree in education from The University of West Alabama. She has been in the early childhood field for 12 years and has had the privilege of working with children ages birth to five years in various preschool settings. She is passionate about developmentally appropriate practices and making the early childhood field equitable for children and early childhood professionals alike.