Even in the most competently run early childhood programs, parents have concerns and sometimes complaints. And, they have a right and a responsibility to express their concerns and to receive thoughtful responses.
There are some general strategies to use in these situations – strategies that will also help us continue to build positive relationships.
Give these concerns your immediate attention.
Find a place to talk privately and invite conversation. If the parent is too emotional to have a conversation, let the parent vent (getting everything out now will diffuse some of the initial emotion). And, set another time (within twenty-four hours) to have the conversation.
Meanwhile, we can gather more information from the teachers’ (perspective) and begin to piece the problem and a resolution together. If a parent concern is passed on to you by someone else, make contact with the parent as quickly as possible. The longer a person stews about a problem, the more confused and out of proportion it can become.
Be fully present. Keep an open mind. Get all the information from the parent (perspective). Let your concern show. And, avoid reacting before you have heard everything the parent wants to say. This one is tough, because the temptation to jump in is so strong. Patience, patience, patience at this time will set the appropriate tone for resolution.
Summarize the issue in your own words.
Before you end your conversation with the parent, repeat the issue in your own words. This approach serves two purposes: the parent is reassured that you have listened and that you understand; and, you both know that you agree on the issue.
If there has been an error, admit it.
Sometimes, we make mistakes. I “growl” when this happens. I also find it helpful to take the blame for whatever, whomever, and then move quickly to how we can correct the situation. Our honesty will be appreciated – admitting a mistake is one way to build trust. This I know, an apology goes a long way.
Enlist parents help in solving the problem.
What will it take for the parent to feel that the situation is being handled appropriately? How will we be sure the problem does not repeat itself? Together, decide what might be done to remedy the situation and develop a plan.
Set a date to evaluate the success of the plan.
If you develop a plan, and it is working to most everyone’s satisfaction, wonderful! If not, go back to the drawing board and try something else. I have found that as long as people know you are working on the problem, they are likely to stay with you and continue to help with the resolution.
Let a parent know when a policy will not change.
Policies in early childhood programs have been written because they insure the well-being of children first; they have been written to be in compliance with state and national standards; and they are the foundation of the operating organization. There’s no wiggle room in a policy. It is what it is.
When a parent’s complaint is not one you are able to do anything about (for example, changing your policy on sick children at school), express understanding and explain the reasons you must keep the policy as is. I have found that parents appreciate knowing the reasons, the rationale, behind everything!
Always treat the parent with respect.
We say this so often, it should be a “duh” moment – of course we should always treat parents with respect! But, I think sometimes we miss the mark and get tangled up in an emotional joust with a parent.
I think it is important that each person leave every conversation with self-esteem intact. Parents who have expressed a concern and feel they have been treated well will also be assured that you care.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Truer words were never written.
Thank parents who express concerns. Let them know that you think of them as partners.
As a director, I reflected upon every interaction with parents. I found it extremely helpful to write down what happened during the conversation – what was spoken, what was not spoken, and how I felt. I always learned something – for the next time. For there would always be a next time.
I’d love your thoughts on this topic. What have you tried that works? Please share –there is a large readership here, and we can all learn from one another.