Calling parents to inform them about their child’s progress or behavior can be uncomfortable. We often do everything we can to avoid having these types of difficult conversations. However, this does a disservice to the child because it keeps their parents from helping them and being a part of the solution. Provided are some helpful tips to support you in having these kinds of conversations.
Be aware of your personal belief system about parents and families. It’s important for you to believe that parents can be a pivotal part of the team process. Sometimes we have preconceived notions about parents and families that get in the way of our communication. Remember, honest communication can be difficult, but it is a necessary part of the healing process and a big part in the hope for change. Go in assuming that parents want to be a part of the team and know what is going on with their child. This belief will come out in your conversation — in both how you phrase information and approach the parent.
Put aside your opinion or judgement of the family. We work with many different kinds of families and families with different values. You and the parents may have very different values about their child, school, and life in general — and that’s okay! Even with different values, we can collaborate with parents on what is best for their child.
It’s easier to deliver bad news if you’ve had some positive interactions with the parent first. It is hard to start a conversation about something personal or negative when it is the first conversation you are having with someone. Some teachers will make contact with each parent at the beginning of the year through a phone call, text message, email, or personal note and say something positive about the child.
It can be difficult to deliver bad news to parents about interactions with their child because we worry they will blame us. Make sure interactions with your students are positive. When talking with parents, be willing to hear their side without getting defensive, and be willing to apologize if it’s needed. Be honest and specific about the concern, even when you know the parent or child will be upset. Stay calm, matter of fact, and direct, and don’t use anger or make passive aggressive comments. Confidently communicate your expectations and philosophy on how you manage your classroom in a way that doesn’t judge them or push your values onto the family.
Have a realistic expectation of how parents may respond. Sometimes we expect parents to do more than they are willing or able to, or we ask for something that is not in line with their values. This can cause us to become frustrated and respond in negative or unprofessional ways. Pushing your own agenda (i.e. medication, home discipline, outside counseling or therapy, etc.) does not increase the likelihood parents will listen and do what we think they should. Keeping realistic expectations will help you maintain a positive relationship with the parent allowing for collaboration to continue and potential healing to occur. We have to let go of control over how we think they should or shouldn’t respond. Understand your role and remember that it has limitations.
Deliver the least amount of information possible while being honest and matter of fact. Be brief about the problem, and spend more time talking about the solution. Repetition and over-explaining does not make parents listen or take the matter more seriously. You don’t want to “belabor or nag” the negative. Say it, and be done with it.
Listen, and don’t take negative comments from parents personally. Remove emotion. For example, once when a parent complained to a teacher that she was bossy, the teacher agreed. She responded, “As a first grade teacher, I am bossy throughout the day. I tell the kids to line up, where to walk, what to do, take a seat, do their work, etc.” She was kind, matter of fact, and didn’t make excuses. The parents accepted it because the teacher accepted it. As you gain confidence as an educator, you will be less likely to take negative comments from others personally.
People love attention and acknowledgement of the things they are doing well. Be sure to let the parents know that you appreciate them. Be friendly and smile when you see them. Remember, it’s easier to deliver bad news to a parent if you’ve had some positive interactions.
Always remember that this is their child. They will have to live with their decisions, not you. You have your own life outside of work and have to let go of what others choose to do or not do.
Steps for talking to parents:-
- Let them know you like and appreciate their child. “I enjoy having <name> in class and really enjoy <characteristic> about them.”
- Explain why you called. If needed, acknowledge the awkwardness. “I don’t mean to pry into your family’s business,” or “This is an uncomfortable topic. I need to let you know about a conversation/concern I have about your child.”
- Listen to their thoughts, answer questions, and ask for their input.
- Decide the next steps.
- Continue with accountability, classroom management, and what you have control over.