How to communicate with parents when there is an issue

Published on Tuesday, 28 May 2019
Last updated on Thursday, 01 October 2020

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The key to maintaining positive partnership with parents is effective communication. No one is more of an expert on a child than their parents, so regularly communicating and listening to share information is the best way to build trust and ensure you’re both working together to create the best outcomes for the child.

This is particularly important when an educator suspects there might be an issue concerning a specific child. If not handled correctly it could be very detrimental, not only to the relationship with the parents, but also the child's general wellbeing. This week, expert tips on how best to raise concerns with parents when you’re an educator.

Carers are often the first to pick up issues

As an early childhood educator, educators spend a lot of time with children. While they are all unique with individual strengths and different rates of development, sometimes there are also signs to indicate something else might be affecting a child which may have gone unnoticed or unaddressed by their parents.

It is not uncommon for an educator or nanny, to be the first person to spot, or bring to light, the symptoms of conditions, behavioural issues or learning disorders that a child under their care might be displaying. This could be anything from bullying, biting or food intolerances, to neurological conditions like autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder and dyslexia.

How to best approach a sensitive situation like this? It all comes down to effective communication, being compassionate and providing solutions. Here are some key steps that you can take:

1. Address issues promptly

Don't wait for an issue to resolve itself or ignore warning signs that something could be wrong. It is your duty to look after the child's wellbeing and despite it being a difficult conversation, it could be vital to their healthy development. Whether it's a behavioural issue or a more serious disorder, early intervention is always best to avoid things escalating or the child not getting the help they need.

2. Prepare for your conversation

Discuss your concerns with your superior or other educators (if you work in a team environment). They may too have witnessed incidents or have similar thoughts to yourself, which will be useful in generating a positive outcome long term. If the suspected issue is something such as autism, it might also be a good idea to write down particular symptoms and dates when they occurred, which will help to demonstrate your concerns when you do speak to the child’s parents. You may need to do some research too, especially if it's an issue you don't know much about. Planning exactly what you are going to say to the parents and how you’re going to say it is crucial.

3. Schedule an appropriate time to discuss the issue

For some parents, pick up or drop off time might be fine to have the conversation, however for others it might be best to call them during the day without the distraction of their child nearby. Discussing a sensitive issue on the fly when a parent may be running late or stressed might not go down very well, so contact them and schedule a mutually convenient time for a conversation.

4. Show empathy and compassion

Hearing there's a problem or that there might be something ‘wrong’ with their child can be very distressing for parents. It's therefore vital that you display kindness, respect and understanding to help them better process the information and reassure them that your concerns are to benefit their child's wellbeing and development. It's also important not to express judgement about the child's behaviour or the suspected issue, and simply present the facts in a caring manner.

5. Know your role and have solutions

While you may be entirely correct in your suspicions about a child's potential issue, you are not qualified to make any diagnoses. Some conditions are highly complex and take many expert assessments and observations before an official diagnosis is given. What is important is that you don't just address your concerns and leave them there for the parent to deal with alone. You need to brainstorm multiple solutions and provide suggestions of recommended next steps, but don't claim to know everything either. Every child and family is different.

You also need to ask them questions (particularly if it's a case of disobedience, violence or bullying) in case there is something happening at home which is contributing to the child's behaviour, and remember that parents may need time to handle their emotions and process their thoughts around the issue too. Ongoing communication is vital so you can eventually decide on a plan together, put strategies into action and then review how effective they are after a period of time.

6. Be patient and don't take it personally

It's not uncommon for parents to reject professional concerns regarding their child, particularly if it's suspected that the issue is one related to special needs. Forget about your ego and focus instead on the child and what you can do to help them when they're under your care, because what happens outside of that is out of your hands. Instead be content that you have done the right thing by planting the seed and providing guidance and hope. In their own time the parents may come around once they've had time to understand it all better, and in the meantime continue to compile information and observations that will assist them in supporting their child down the track when they do finally accept your concerns and advice.

Thanks to The Mighty and for their helpful tips and advice.

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