Effective Communication in Childcare CentersMar 05, 2017
Developing a healthy, effective communication style between parents and the early childhood staff is essential to maintain and ensure that your childcare center is running smoothly, with the best interest of the child put first.
Like many who have chosen a career in early childhood education, I tend to be easy-going and “nice” to people. After all, that’s what makes children feel comfortable and allows me to engage with them, right? And I can attest, as a trainer who travels into many corners of the US working with EC professionals – you guys are, across the board, the nicest bunch of people!
And sometimes being “nice” makes it challenging for me to be direct and honest with others. Being nice can be a cover-up for avoiding conflict, for going along with others to keep the peace, and not speaking up when there are hard things to say.
It’s estimated that 80% of EC professionals are conflict avoidant and more that 50% say they regularly experience gossip, negativity and backbiting at work!
Part of being professional, and ethical, in our work with children and families, is to not participate in conversations that include gossip or negativity about children, families, or staff members. If you need to discuss legitimate complaints, take it to your supervisor, in confidence, in an appropriate, professional meeting behind closed doors.
Open Communication Benefits Parents, Teachers, and Children!
When parents are allowed open communication with directors and staff of their childcare facility, it creates a bond and sense of trust between teacher and parent. This helps parents open up about problems that might be happening at home or where the child might be struggling developmentally.
I remember a really difficult conversation from when I was the director of a campus child care program that served children of university students and faculty. A teacher had made a call to Child Protective Services after a child in her class disclosed that at his house, when he did something bad, his parents would lock him in a closet. After talking with him further, he communicated that it had happened on numerous occasions and he was forced to stay in the closet for what felt like a long time to him and that he cried and felt very afraid. CPS followed up with a visit to the home, after which the parents demanded a meeting to discuss the incident. In my office with the teacher and these angry parents, they communicated that they did NOT understand what was wrong with their discipline method, were VERY concerned about the report being on their permanent record, especially with his position as Department Chair and WHY would we call authorities without talking with them first?
We talked for a long time, stating laws that we were bound to, appropriate guidance for young children, and ultimately, our concern for their child. We directed every aspect of the conversation to their little boy, gently diffusing anger with a non-flinching commitment to his well-being. We offered to help them figure out how to guide his behavior at home and what’s normal, typical behavior for a 4-year-old. Ultimately, they were released from CPS oversight quickly, wer able to make positive changes in their parenting and our parent-school partnership thrived to the point of affection and respect for one another. A number of years later I ran into these parents and received a big hug and report on how their son, who was then in college, was doing!
I think the key to getting through this really difficult conversation was a commitment to stay calm, direct and always bring to the forefront the commonality of our desire for the best thing for their child.
When we practice open communication with parents, it allows them to know what is going on in the day-to-day of their children’s lives, gives insight into their children’s strengths and weaknesses and allows an opportunity to convey any problems or concerns that may arise that the parents might not see.
The end benefit of having an open communication style is that the child benefits from an open, trusting environment with everyone cheering him on!
Further benefits of effective communication between early childhood teachers and parents include:
- A strengthening/building of a relationship as both parties feel understood and appreciated
- Both staff and parents will feel more comfortable sharing information (especially if it is hard) when they know they will be heard.
- Parents tend to feel more involved with their child and what goes on in their childcare life
- Childcare teachers can increase their knowledge of who their students are away from the center, helping them be able to better teach and guide them
Listening is Key
Effective communication can be tricky and it is important that we, as the caregivers to many children at the same time, really take the time to listen and understand the concerns of parents. It can be a challenge! The times when parents are dropping off and picking up children are hectic times of the day. It’s helpful if an extra person can float between classrooms to allow teachers time to visit a moment with parents who need to talk. Another option is to schedule a facetime or skype conversation during the day when both the parent and the teacher are away from children and able to focus on the conversation.
Being intentional about making space in the busyness of the day communicates to parents that their questions and concerns are important to you. Sometimes all a stressed parent needs is an empathetic ear, and assurance that what they’re experiencing with their child is normal, even if it’s challenging, and that they are not alone. Because you know their child well, they need your insight and perspective.
After all, when we can create and maintain a healthy atmosphere of communication in our childcare center, children will thrive both at home and at school!
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