Having difficult conversations with parents at your childcare center is never fun, but it’s a necessary part of the job. So what’s the best way to navigate these sensitive situations while keeping relationships with families intact?
In our How to Approach Difficult Topics with Parents—Without Burning Bridges webinar, we asked our community of early educators to share how they turn hard conversations into productive ones. Here are some of their best tips!
1. Build relationships with parents daily.
Difficult conversations with parents are much easier when you’ve already established a foundation of trust with them. If parents can see that you’re committed to open communication with them on a regular basis, and not just when a difficult situation arises, they’ll be more likely to trust you during hard conversations. One great way to build strong relationships with parents is to share daily updates with them about their students, such as photos of their activities and progress made on key milestones. Remember that sharing positive updates will help lay the groundwork for healthy communication when challenging issues arise.
Looking for stress-free ways to keep parents in the loop? Our parent communication toolkit includes templates, tipsheets, and other resources to help you engage families throughout the school year.
2. Schedule ample time for your conversation.
Rushing through a hard conversation is never ideal, and often leads to more stress and chances for misunderstanding. Choose a time that works well for both you and the parents, when interruptions can be kept to a minimum. Eliminate distractions by choosing a quiet place to have the conversation, and silence your phones if possible. This will ensure that everyone can stay present, engaged, and focused on understanding one another and finding a great solution.
3. Don’t present a problem without a solution.
If you’re hoping to have a productive conversation with parents, set the tone by preparing some potential solutions to share during your meeting. You can also provide resources that parents can continue to reference after the conversation, such as guides from the CDC or your state’s department of education. You are the early education expert, and parents will appreciate any guidance you can provide!
4. Use the “sandwich approach."
- When you’re discussing a sensitive issue with parents, remember to “sandwich” the difficult topic with two positive conversation points as well. For example, you could start and end your meeting by sharing about their child’s strengths, what you love about having their child at your program, or how you appreciate the opportunity to work closely with them to find an effective solution. This will help remind parents about what’s going well instead of just focusing on what could be better.
5. Normalize the situation.
- It’s understandable that emotions can run high during difficult conversations, especially if the topic is about someone’s child. Give parents some peace of mind by letting them know that they aren’t alone and that many other parents have experienced similar situations. Once parents understand that their situation isn’t unusual or abnormal, they’ll be better prepared to problem solve rather than dwell on their anxiety and concerns.
6. Consider cultural context.
- Sometimes, what may seem like a disagreement with a parent could actually be a cultural misunderstanding. As an early educator, it’s incredibly important to create a space where all families feel welcome and supported. In fact, NAEYC recommends that all early childhood educators “seek to learn about and honor each family’s child-rearing values, languages (including dialects), and culture.” During hard conversations, take the time to listen to parents carefully so you can understand their cultural values, especially if they might differ from your personal views or your center’s teaching philosophies. Staying curious and open will help you find solutions that respect the cultural backgrounds and upbringings of all your students.
7. Work as a team.
- Remind parents that you both want what’s best for the student. Refrain from finger-pointing and focus instead on what you can accomplish if you work together. Emphasize to parents that you have a shared goal—finding the most effective resolution possible!
Working together is a great way to also increase family involvement at your center. For more tips, check out our 10 Ways to Boost Family Participation at Your Childcare Center or Preschool.
8. Ask about what’s going on at home.
- If appropriate, ask parents for more information about what goes on at home. For example, if you’re talking about a student’s behavioral issues, you might learn that their parents already have a set procedure they use at home that you could also implement in the classroom. You might also uncover additional context that can explain the behavior, such as a parent changing their working hours or a family member moving into or out of the home. Gathering as much information as possible will help everyone make an informed decision about what next steps to take.
9. If you’re doing a video call, remember that you can record the meeting.
- During a difficult conversation, it can be hard to take notes and focus on what parents are saying at the same time. If you’re using a video call program like Zoom, consider recording the meeting so you can rewatch it if needed. This can be a helpful way to catch any details you missed the first time around or remember the solution you arrived at.
10. Ask parents if they need more time to process after the conversation.
- Sometimes, no matter how long a conversation is, you won’t reach a satisfying conclusion by the end of it. If that’s the case, don’t worry—it’s perfectly normal to need some space after a hard conversation! Ask parents to talk again after you’ve had time to process separately, and emphasize that you’re confident you’ll be able to find a solution together soon.
Thank you for everything you do to support and care for the families in your program. We hope you found some useful takeaways from these suggestions!
For more tips on how to talk to families about sensitive issues, check out our blog post, How to Handle Difficult Conversations with Parents at Your Childcare Center or Preschool!
Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at mybrightwheel.com.