The initial connections we create with children and families set the tone for the entire school year.
Making connections with families is crucial when working with students who may show signs of potential communication, behavioral, social, or academic concerns. Without an established connection, it may be difficult to address concerns you have about a child.
Our opinions as educators are only as valuable as the relationships we have with the children, their parents, and their families. Parents and guardians of all students must feel that we truly love and care for their children before they will ever value our opinion. They must see us greet and dismiss the students each day with genuine love and kindness as well as in daily teacher- child interactions. Every ounce of connection we offer to parents and children will enable us to get them the help and interventions they need.
Timing Is Everything
Often, teachers notice red flags very early on, sometimes on the very first day of school. We must be strategic about how and when we have tough conversations with parents.
Brief conversations at pick up and drop off can be a nice way to build relationships with parents, but be as honest as possible. Avoid saying things like, “Johnny had a great day” at pick up when in fact it was pretty rough. Instead say, “Johnny really enjoyed playing with the train today. Does he have a train set at home?” This shows that you care about Johnny and notice what he likes. It also gives parents an opportunity to share a little about Johnny’s home life, which will further build your relationship with the family.
These statements also help you lead into other conversations in the future. “Johnny still loves our train set at playtime, but he had a really hard time leaving it when playtime was over today. He cried and threw the train across the room. Do you ever see him have a hard time leaving things he really enjoys at home or sharing them with his sister?” You are continuing to build for more conversations. In some instances, the question brings your concerns to the table on the parent’s terms. “We see that all the time at home. Do you have any suggestions? Is that normal for his age to get so angry about having to leave a toy?” Bingo! We have a window of opportunity for the tough conversation.
It would be great if it always happened that easily, but it doesn’t. All parents are on their own journeys. The journey to acknowledging a problem, accepting the problem, and working to find supports for the problem is different for every family and every parent. For example, in the scenario above, a parent may answer, “No, we never see him have a hard time leaving things at home. He loves playing with his sister.” (Meanwhile, Johnny is screaming at the top of his lungs because his sister won’t give him the toy she is playing with.)
It is important to acknowledge the parent’s point of view. We can get stuck in our own thinking: How does that parent not see it? This behavior has to be happening at home! This thinking does not get us any closer to helping the child or the family.
The parent’s response can be for a number of reasons. First, the child could truly act differently in the home setting, under different rules and expectations. Or the parent may know how to handle situations like the one described above in a way that diffuses the situation. Perhaps, she has lived with the behaviors for so long, they just seem normal to her. Or possibly, her eyes and brain see the concerns but her heart is just not ready to see them. Whatever the reason, the teacher must acknowledge the parent’s viewpoint.
Each of us has our own perspective, and this parent’s perspective is that the child is typical. It is not our job to negate those feelings. We need to take the information parents give us as clues to where they are in their journey, and tread lightly from there. Our job is to be objective and share what is happening in the classroom in a way that the parent can hear and understand.
Talking about these types of issues is difficult. Building strong connections with parents shows care and builds common ground for addressing concerns.
Next time, we will examine some ways to plan and prepare for these tough conversations.
BIO: Lindy McDaniel is the author of Considerate Classroom where she shares resources for visual supports, behavior, communication, sensory needs, and social narratives to help teachers of students with special needs. Follow her on Pinterest and Facebook.
Check out these other Ask the Expert posts—
Developing Communication Skills in Preschool
Understanding Motor Development in Children: Hand Dominance
Supporting Sensory Needs in the Classroom
How to Have Tough Conversations with Parents
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