Handling Difficult Conversations with Parents

No one enjoys having a difficult conversation, and it can be very emotional when the topic is a person’s child. However, if you are tasked with a difficult discussion with a parent, you can do a few things beforehand to ensure the conversation goes smoothly. 

Get to Know Your Parents

At the beginning of the year, invite parents to a Parent’s Night or school information session. Introduce yourself to each parent at the beginning of the school year and take a few moments each day to greet them. 

Each child and family in your care is unique and has their own culture, beliefs, family structure, and preferences. If parents know and trust you, they will receive a discussion of a difficult topic better because they know it is coming from a place of respect and care for them and their child. 

Keep Documentation

Documentation is a teacher’s biggest ally. Whether it is behavioral issues, developmental concerns, or social-emotional development, backing your statements up with documentation is essential. It should be objective rather than subjective, especially when writing about behavioral or emotional concerns.

For example, instead of “Shira hit another child because she was mad,” write precisely what you observed. “Shira hit another child after they took the toy she was playing with.”

It is crucial we don’t ascribe our feelings to a situation. For example, she was likely mad, and if you were discussing the incident with the child, you might say, “Did John taking your toy make you feel mad?” to help her identify her feelings. Still, it does not belong in documentation unless the child stated the emotion themselves without prompting. In that case, you would write, “Shira said she was mad when another child took her toy.”

Additionally, track dates and times of behavioral concerns so you can look for patterns. For example, you may notice that Paul cries and becomes aggressive every day before lunch. You can then begin to look for triggers. Perhaps he is tired or needs a snack earlier, etc. Photos of a child’s work and videos are also valuable forms of documentation. 

Use Each Parents’ Preferred Method of Communication

At the beginning of the school year, send home a brief questionnaire to get to know each family. One question to include is their preferred method of communication for non-emergencies and the best time to reach them. Some parents work in offices where they don’t have access to their cell phones, some prefer reading emails over talking on the phone, and some prefer a face-to-face chat. 

When you use a parent’s preferred method, they will be more at ease and open to a discussion. 

Listen to Their Concerns and Reassure Them

Remember that conversations are two-way streets, so after you’ve broached your concerns leave space for the parent or parents to voice any questions or concerns they have. It may be the first time they are hearing this concern from a teacher, and they may be resistant to hearing anything negative about their child. 

No matter the topic, be it academic, developmental, or behavioral, it is crucial to reassure the parents that you are there to support them and their child and that your goal is to work as a team to solve the issue. Start and end the conversation with something positive about their child, leaving them feeling good about their little one.

Make the Conversation a Priority

Teachers shouldn’t hold difficult conversations during a 2-minute pick-up in the classroom. If you need to approach a parent about a concern, let them know you’d like to set up a meeting to discuss their child’s behavior, development, etc. A phone call or an email is the best way to begin the discussion; use that time to set up a time to talk to the parent privately. Ideally, the child should not be present for the conversation. Be prepared with suggestions and resources; this will show the parents you are well-versed and educated on the topic; however, be open to their ideas too. 

In a perfect world, parents and teachers would never need to have difficult discussions; however, they are a necessary part of education from time to time. Remember to stay calm, focused on the issue, and use supportive language to reassure the parents that you are here to work as a team!