how to deliver bad news to parents

How to Deliver Bad News to Parents: An Educator’s Guide

Early Childhood Education can’t be sunshine and rainbows ALL of the time. Every so often you get a little storm cloud that pops up. The tricky part is when it looms over you as you mull over how to break this news to parents. Bad news stinks, but passing along the bad news to parents doesn’t have to. Open communication is the vital key to a sound parent-teacher relationship and always bridges the gap between home and school. Below you will find some ways that will ease this process for you in the future!

Time Is Of the Essence

Make some sort of communication effort as soon as possible. If time passes and parents find out that they were not informed of something right away, they may be upset. Attempting to reach the child’s parents as soon as you are able is always a good idea. Caregivers appreciate the urgency, even if it’s not that “big” of a deal.

Also take note, there is a difference between an emergency and a sense of urgency. Communication efforts can vary from phone call, to email, text message, or messaging through a childcare app like HiMama. Depending on the nature of the bad news, you can decide which one is the most fitting. At the beginning of the year, send out a survey to parents asking how they prefer to be contacted, and try your best to stick to that. 

Keep Calm and Carry On

When delivering bad news to parents, always remain as calm as possible. As you speak and carry yourself throughout the day, other people pick up on your energy. The same thing happens through phone calls and messages. The underlying tones and feelings will be read, so make sure that you are setting the tone and it is calm and professional.

Another important thing to consider is that parents may become upset or defensive initially, upon receiving bad news. Don’t take this personally. This is to be expected, and it is very helpful for them to sense your calm demeanor. They often eventually come back around to match it. Be a constant for them. You’re taking care of their precious babies, and they do trust you. 

Frequent Flier Miles

Communicate, communicate, communicate! The more you keep the doors of communication open, the easier it will be when you do need to deliver bad news. Start off at the beginning of a school year, or when a new student starts, go over with the parents how communication works in your classroom and the importance of it. The more frequently you communicate with parents, the better relationship you will have with them.

One rule of thumb is to make sure that new information, whether good or bad, is not shared for the first time at a parent/teacher conference. That is not the time for brand new information.  Frequent communication also creates other benefits like comfortability, trust, and follow-through.

Normalize Communication

It is a good thing to communicate with parents. This should be the “norm.” Having conversations with parents on a daily basis aids in the child’s early education experience. Lots of children in early childhood education settings spend more (awake) time at school than they do at home. Read that again. Children benefit in a huge way when their parents and teachers are on the same page and communicate regularly. 

Be Positive (When Possible)

As was already noted in this post, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. And we get that. However, remaining positive when possible is the best rule of thumb. No one wants to hear an earful of negative reporting. While the news might be “bad” in nature, there are ways to weave in some positivity.

Typically sandwiching your bad news in between two positive statements works well for this. For example, “Janey had so much fun today and was really full of energy. Unfortunately, she slipped while she was running and cut her knee. She is okay now and we took good care of her.” Or, “Johnny loves to play in Cars and Blocks. Today, when he was playing with a peer, a conflict arose and he hit his friend with a block. Johnny responded really well when the teacher removed him from the area and discussed what he could do next time. He also did a good job apologizing.” This approach is helpful so that your message doesn’t fall on deaf ears. It’s important to be honest, but positive. 

Be Specific

Details, details, details! Without being wordy, be specific and include details. Stick to facts rather than opinion when relaying these details. Children can be good little reporters or they can be the greatest storytellers. Some kids state facts and others make up stories or embellish the truth. Sometimes parents will say, “but my child said, ______.” This is why it’s important to stick with those facts and be as specific as possible.

Cover Your Bum

When you’re sharing bad news via a phone call or face to face, it’s best practice to cover all of your bases and send a follow-up email. This way you can recap what was discussed and all of the facts and details are reiterated in writing. Should the bad news become a reoccurring issue, you can also refer back to these emails or notes easily. Documentation is important and helpful, so make sure you have that paper trail.

Delivering bad news to parents isn’t always fun, but it doesn’t have to be something that you dread. Making sure that some of these strategies are implemented will encourage a best case scenario. You and the caretakers are all on the same team. Everyone wants what is best for the child. You want to make parents your friends- not the Facebook kind or the happy hour kind, but the kind that you can laugh with, celebrate with, and have hard conversations with. It should be light, easy, yet professional. Is it easy to do? Nope. Will it take extra effort? Yep. Will it be worth it? Absolutely.

To learn more about the origin of early childhood education and the many influences that make the field what it is today, check out our post about the history of early childhood education

Christi Schlager

Christi has been teaching in the classroom for close to 10 years. She has taught both Special Education and Early Childhood Education. Christi enjoys gardening, creating, the beach, and motherhood.

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