Three mistakes I’ve made when talking to parents

by Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. on February 1, 2010

in Uncategorized

A guest post by Mark Lim: Early Years Childcare

When I switched careers from finance to childcare, I expected communicating with parents would be a breeze. I mean, I used to write all sorts of long boring reports and liaise with big fancy financial institutions handling tons of cash. How hard could it be talking to parents about their child’s day?

As it turned out, pretty hard!

Here are some of the mistakes I made, which you can hopefully avoid:

Talking too little

What I did: I read somewhere that relief staff shouldn’t talk to parents about their children. That’s the responsibility of full-time staff. In my first childcare setting, I was a relief staff, and so I took the approach of hanging in the background unless I was directly questioned about something.

The result: I didn’t get to share some of the many wonderful experiences of the children. Whether or not I was a full-time member of staff, I still spent a lot of time with the children, and so there were things that only I witnessed or knew about. If I didn’t open my mouth about it, the full-time staff would just read mechanically off the child’s daily sheet. On top of that, I came off as shy and lacking confidence during my appraisals. Huh!

Talking too much

What I did: At my second childcare setting, parents took a greater interest in the course I was doing, namely the Early Years Professional Status (EYPS) course. I still remember how it warmed my heart the first time a parent sincerely took interest in my personal life, rather than just focusing on themselves and their children. With such an interesting new topic of discussion (ME! ME! ME!), who could help but become more engaged in prolonged conversation?


The result: Establishing rapport with parents can be a good thing, but you know what they say about too much of a good thing. The best opportunity to talk with parents is usually at the end of the day, but it’s also the most chaotic time as parents are picking up their kids. As I stood around chatting nicely about myself and the EYPS, I was effectively a non-member of staff. The chaos in the room quickly worsened, as did my colleague’s temperaments!





Parents already know EVERYTHING

What I did: Having little childcare-related experience, I assumed that everybody was an expert except for me. Therefore, it felt silly to tell the expert parents little details about their child’s day, like how many minutes she’d slept or that she’s picked the pink car or she’d coughed a total of 3 times that day. What could I tell a parent that they didn’t already know?

The result: Rushing through a child’s daily report ALWAYS led to parents slowing me down and asking for further details. Parents (first time parents anyway) are obsessively interested in their child’s day, and welcome ANY piece of additional information. If I told them their child had been staring at a blank wall, they’d ask me what colour the wall was. Besides, most parents never tire of hearing about their own children, especially when it clearly shows that a member of staff has been paying close attention to their child.

Mistakes are always obvious and easy to avoid once you know about them. Can you think of any you’ve experienced? Don’t be shy, share it out loud in the comments section!

P.S. I’d like to thank Deborah for giving me some space to rant, I very much appreciate it.

Be sure to see Mark’s latest post on his blog titled Communicating with Your baby: Baby Signs”

Thank you Mark for sharing your experiences as a new teacher in ece with us on my blog. Please come back sometime and share with us again!

Deborah

This article is being shared with you by Deborah Stewart of Teach Preschool - Promoting excellence in early childhood education at home and in the preschool classroom!

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Comments on this entry are closed.

1 Cindy Woolard February 7, 2010 at 2:13 pm

What I found at the beginning of my teaching experience is that parents who are school teachers may be the most difficult to get along with. I found that these parents were more critical of me as a teacher as were parents from a different profession and parents who were not very familiar with the pre-school experience. In the early days, I sort of shied away from these parents because, I just felt that I did not have enough knowledge to sound professional when discussing their child’s education. The result is that even now, I do not share a lot of information with parents unless asked. I do not feel comfortable sparing with a parent over whether or not their four year old has learned to blend words in the first month of school. Please give advice as to how I can feel more comfortable with parents!

2 Deborah J. Stewart February 7, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Hi Cindy,
You bring up a very important and common concern among preschool teachers. I would encourage you first of all to be a very attentive and good listener. EVERY parent wants to feel heard, they want to know that you respect their opinion, and want to know that you care about their child. Sometimes, parents worry that if they share their opinion, that the teacher will take it out on their child. You have to really find a way to let parents know that you are interested in what they have to say. If you withdraw or feel offended by parents, then you send a message that you might not mean to send. It can be read that you don’t like the parent or that you don’t respect their view. So first and foremost – be a good listener and encourage parents to share their views and concerns.

You may not agree with everything a parent has to say, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t feel heard. By like token – it doesn’t mean that you are incompetent either. The more you welcome conversation and spend more time listening then talking, the more parents will grow to value you too. You don’t need to sound smart to be a good listener. You can even tell a parent that you are learning something new everyday and appreciate them taking the time to help you grow. Don’t get defensive or withdrawn – instead look at it as an opportunity to build relationships.

As far as feeling professional when you talk to parents – don’t start with the hard conversations such as pedagogy and theory – start with the little. And if you have a parent that is asking questions you feel overwhelmed by then very kindly let them know that you are impressed by their knowledge and would love to continue the conversation further. Don’t feel pressured to fudge – just share what you do know and be honest about what you don’t fully know. I bet that in time, you will discover that you know more than you realize. I suspect you just are not used to articulating your knowledge. Practice this skill by listening and gradually building your confidence.

I hope this helps!

3 Cindy Woolard February 7, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Hello Ms. Deborah,
I appreciate that you have taken the time to answer my concerns. The answer that you gave I find to be timely and appropriate. I do have the tendency to withdraw a little when I feel that parents are expecting more of me; or for me to move much further ahead than what the curriculum is calling for. I was just beginning at my current school when a parent brought her child in late one morning and began yelling and sreaming that I was picking on her child because I made a decision to move his seat closer to the board. I do believe that you are right about the fact that I may know more than what I give myself credit for. I would love to gain more confidence in my knowlege of children and education in general.
Thanks so much for everything. I will take your advice as given.
Cynthia

4 Mark February 7, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Hi Cindy!

You don’t need big fancy words, or quotes from the latest scientific research to sound professional and knowledgeable. At the end of the day, noone is spending more time educating the child than you, so whether or not you realise it, you’re the expert on that particular child’s education (but don’t say that to the parents!).

If parents bring up some aspect of education which you’re not familiar with, there is no harm in asking them to explain. If they brought it up, they are certainly interested in it, and they’d probably be more than willing to share their knowledge.

You can then try to apply what they said to their child. I.e. if they start talking about Vygotsky’s theory of socio-cultural development theory on children’s internalisation of dialogue (not so simple), it’s alright for you to just say oh, yea, your kid’s been talking aloud to himself, but is beginning to think about things in his head as well. (simple)

You could also just learn more about it after they’ve mentioned it, and bring it up at a later date. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with just saying sorry, I’m not very familiar with what you’ve just mentioned. I like it when people admit to their short-comings, rather than blatantly pretending that they’re perfect in every way.

On that note, I’m no expert either, but I hope you’ll find what I said to be helpful. :) I hope I’ve not been too long-winded!

Nobody’s out to deliberately hunt you down and make you look like a fool, so don’t worry too much!

Regards
Mark
http://earlychildcare.wordpress.com

5 Cindy Woolard February 7, 2010 at 5:24 pm

I am looking for something interesting to do for “community helpers,” week!
Cindy

6 Deborah Stewart February 8, 2010 at 12:44 am

Did you see the link that Ayn shared on facebook? http://prekinders.com/community-theme/

7 Teacher Tom February 8, 2010 at 9:28 am

I’m sorry Cindy, that must have been hard not being supported by your fellow teachers! I’ve been lucky, I guess, to have had the opposite experience with parents who are teachers or former teachers, but it would have absolutely crushed me to have found myself in an adversarial relationship with them.

Do you have the ability to invite parents into class to help out? I’ve found that best way to get them to understand what their child is learning is to be right there in the classroom where they can see what’s happening for themselves. If you can get them to participate, especially those with teaching skills, all the better. The side benefit is they get to see how hard you work and the challenges you face.

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