Communicating tricky issues

Published on Tuesday, 01 October 2019
Last updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2019

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As an early childhood educator, positive and effective communication with the parents or family members of the children in your care is one of the most important elements to consider in your daily practice. Positive communication helps avoid potential issues before they arise and can assist in favourable referrals, but it's also a key way to maximise the development and wellbeing of children.

Tackling tricky topics with parents can be challenging, however the worst thing you can do is not say anything. To prevent misinformation, confusion, and anger, and maximise benefits for children, it's best to be open, honest and direct. Here are a few tips for communicating effectively with families.

Fee increases or other costs

Early childhood education is already a significant household expense for families so it's only natural that they're not going to be pleased about any increases in fees or other additional costs.

When communicating price changes, the best approach is provide plenty of advance warning in writing via email or hardcopy letters. It's also important to explain why the fees are going up as this will help parents to understand and accept the increase. For example inflation and rising costs, or to help pay for new programs which will benefit their child.

Changes to staffing

With children spending a lot of time in early childhood services it's normal for them to form close bonds with educators. When a teacher leaves, goes away for a long period of time, or moves to another class it can cause children (and their parents) to become upset and unsettled.

Once again, advance warning is the best approach. When possible let families know via email and verbally (from the educator themselves) and give children a chance to say goodbye. Turn the focus also on who is replacing the departing educator, organise introductions as soon as possible, and communicate their suitability and relevant experience to parents to help reassure them their child will be in good hands.

Unexpected incidents that occur

No parent likes to be the last to know that their child has been harmed, is hurting other children or that there was another type of incident while they were in care. Assess the situation when it happens and determine whether it requires an immediate phone call or if it can wait until home time. In addition, to explaining the situation carefully so there is no confusion or assumptions, also offer solutions as to how a similar situation can be avoided in the future.

Suspected issues with children

Educators work closely with children and can often be the first ones to spot that there might be a potential issue with regards to learning disabilities, behavioural issues and other emotional or mental conditions such as depression.

The first thing to do is speak with other educators in the centre to voice your suspicions and then collectively start recording details around the child’s behaviour in a diary. This way when it's time to speak with the parent you will have written examples to help communicate why you think there is an issue, which will also help them when consulting with medical professionals.

As this can be a very sensitive area it's important to organise a suitable time to speak with parents or family members about your concerns, when they are not distracted (such as at pick up or drop off). Additionally, it's vital that you offer a range of solutions and resources to help them process your professional opinion and know the next steps to take when they're ready. You also need to communicate that you're there to help them and their child and are available to chat or assist in any way when required.

General tips for improving parent / teacher communication

Outside of sensitive or tricky topics, it's beneficial to have good communication with parents and guardians at all times. It bridges the gap between home and care, with some studies suggesting that it also helps children develop positive self-esteem and be more motivated to learn. Here are a few general tips:

  • Determine which type of communication – One-way exchanges (such as letters, newsletters and reports) are fine for updates such as what's happening in the classroom; however two-way exchanges are best for when you need to develop a conversation (such as sharing concerns, working out solutions or celebrating achievements).
  • Use technology – Parents love seeing photos and reading updates about their child and what they've been doing on preschool apps. Using technology to send short notifications and reminders or allow parents to easily reach out with quick messages, is also a great option for busy working families.
  • Phone calls – Don't leave phone calls for bad news only, try phoning parents with brief positive messages from time to time, such as news about their child's progress or to share an anecdote.
  • Diverse and multicultural families – Often communication can be a challenge in families who are from other cultures and where English is not their first language. Work with the family in finding solutions towards better communication. Employing a diverse range of educators who speak multiple languages can be very beneficial for this too.
  • Allow a chance for feedback – Let families know that you have an open communication policy and that they know how to express concerns, ideas or other topics with the centre and educators. Interactive parent-teacher conferences and email surveys are great for this.
  • Volunteering – Inviting parents or family members to help in the classroom establishes a rapport between educators and parents and can also be a great way to informally raise any concerns or gather feedback in general.
  • Social events – Communication barriers can be more easily broken down when parents develop family teacher relationships through socialising. Parent nights, park playdates, family picnics and movie nights are all great ideas.

Thanks to Educa for the article on communication between parents and early childhood educators which helped write this article.

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