As nannies, babysitters, childcare professionals and preschool teachers there will inevitably come a time when you must share with parents of the children you care for about the inappropriate behavior their child was displaying. Hopefully you and the parent have already had a discussion about how discipline in your care would feel, look, and sound like before taking on the caregiver role. How caregivers discipline has a direct impact on the child and their family and should be taken very seriously. It's not the easiest part of the job to say the least, but it comes with the territory.
Even before speaking to the parents about their child's behavior make sure you have all the facts. Did you personally witness this behavior? Or was it told to you by another child? Knowing the facts about what was happening before and during the misbehaving of the child is very important to ensure that the parents are getting the correct information and makes you knowledgeable to answer any questions that the parents may have regarding the situation.
Make sure that everyday you are giving daily reports to the parents about the child's day whether verbal or written. Developing a positive relationship as the caregiver early on certainly helps the parent to feel more comfortable when receiving bad news from you about their child.
Do not ever threaten a child with "I am going to tell your parents if you don't stop ____________". Follow the discipline guidelines that were agreed upon between you and the parent at all times. This let's the child know that you and the parent are on the same team and both care about their well being. You are not a tattle teller, but an adult who is in charge of their supervision and care while their parents are away.
Even with all the things mentioned above in place it can still be difficult to share information with parents who may not be ready to receive it, which could make you feel negative emotions that the parents may question your quality of care, or challenge you about whether or not the behavior was really unacceptable. So, how can we confidently talk to parents about their child's behavior?
1. Be Gentle. Your choice of words will mean a lot in how the parent will receive your news. Refrain from using terms like bad, or anything that may be misunderstood as attaching negative behavior to the child's character, and be specific about the behavior you are addressing.
2. Make sure you are not making the parent feel as though they are being judged as bad parents when you speak to them. Use statements that convey this such as " I know you are doing your best with______, let's see how we can help_____, make better decisions when he/she is with me".
3. If the behavior has been a repeat occurrence have your documentation on hand and ask the parents to schedule a special time to reevaluate the discipline procedure that was first established. When parents see that you have taken the time to observe their child in hopes to prevent the behavior from occurring and are also willing to spend more time to develop a success plan for their child they will see you as a knowledgeable and caring person, who is very capable of handling their child's behavioral needs.
4. Talk to the parents without the child being present. Ask the parents if they could talk to their child when they get home about what you just shared with them and let them know you will be available for a chat with the child and the parents the next day to make sure the child knows what behaviors are being expected of them. We don't want to encourage forced apologies from a child, or cause the child to have misunderstood feelings about themselves, unfortunately 9 out of 10 times this is what will happen when a child is present when a parent is receiving information about their behavior.
5. End the conversation on a positive note, by sharing with the parents the great things that the child is doing well. Be sure to let the parents know the next time you are caring for the child that it is a clean slate, and you will not be giving the child any consequences for the actions they made the day before.
With experience your confidence in talking with parents about their child's behavior will soar. Being mindful of how we communicate with parents is the key to the child's success and your success as a childcare provider. Practice before the time arrives for these hard conversations. Create scenarios, tape record your voice to hear how it sounds when you speak the words. Put yourself in the parents shoes, and make sure your compassion shines through, not just your conviction to solve the "problem".
Have you had to have a tough conversation with a parent? How did it go? Parents, what tips would you add to this list? Feel free to share with us in the comments. We can all learn from each other. Perhaps, your experience could help another childcare provider build a stronger relationship with the parents of the children in their lives. Together we can help create a more positive image of what discipline in the early childhood setting looks like, sounds like, and feels like.
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