Working with Parents
From your initial visit with parents and children, to your final good-bye as children move on to other schools or programs, the way that you communicate with parents plays an important role in how you develop and maintain these important relationships over time.
The first contact you have with prospective parents usually happens over the phone. Most of the time the parents are calling you to get more information about your program and to inquire about openings available. As you talk to them, you?ll want to gather basic information about their child, so you may find it helpful to have a checklist of standard questions.
You may want to ask parents:
- How they heard about your program
- The ages of their children
- When they need care to begin
- What kind of schedule they need (full or part-time, daily hours, etc.)
- Have they used child care before?
- What qualities they are looking for in a program?
Is their child toilet trained?
Some information you may want to share with parents includes:
- How long your program has been in business
- The type of program you offer
- Your hours of operation
- If your program is accredited
- Information about your background
- If you have openings available and would like to meet with the family, invite the parents in to visit the program, with or without their child.
- Schedule a time when you can show them around and conduct a detailed interview.
For the initial interview, you?ll want to have all of the information about your program on hand, including your parent handbook, enrollment forms, brochures, etc.
Plan for at least an hour of uninterrupted time to discuss:
- Philosophy of your program
- Group sizes, ages, and adult-to-child ratios
- Program structure and curriculum
- Education and training of provider and staff
- Yearly schedule and calendar
- Daily activities, materials, and equipment
- Health and safety policies
- Parental involvement
- Contracts, payments, due dates, and late fees
- Subsidy and financial aid information
- Forms to be completed by parents
- Meals and snacks provided
The second half of the interview is when you can show the parents around the program, taking them on a tour of each classroom or area, the outside play yard, toileting facilities, etc. If the child is present, have the child visit the class that she would be attending, introduce her to the teachers and other children, and have her try out an activity or two. Make sure that you conduct a thorough tour of the facility and answer any questions the parents may have along the way.
At the end of the visit, communicate the next steps to prospective families. Be clear about forms that need to be completed, deposits that are due (and whether the deposit is refundable), and any waiting list information you may have.
Once you have heard back from a family, and have accepted them into your program, you?ll want to begin the enrollment process. Be sure to go over all of the policies with them, and discuss issues, such as withdrawal from the program, illness, vacation, late payment and pick-up fees, etc. Specify items that must be brought from home, items that should not be brought in, and any other important policies.
Have the parents sign all of the appropriate enrollment forms, and give them any forms they need to have signed by their pediatrician or others. Give them a copy of the parent handbook and contract, and collect a deposit check from them at this time.
Your Parent Handbook
Your parent handbook is one of the most important communication tools that you?ll provide for parents. Whether you are putting a handbook together for the first time, or are refreshing the one you have, think about compiling the information in a clear, easy-to-read format.
Your parent handbook may include:
- Introduction and philosophy of the program
- License ID number
- Staff biographies
- The daily schedule
- Drop-off and pick-up policies
- Individual child records
- Health and safety policies
- Parent involvement
- Discipline policy
- Toileting policy
- Food program policy
- Toys from home
- Birthday and holiday celebrations
- Inclement weather policy
- Special programs offered
- Yearly calendar of events
- Termination policy
When a child begins care in a new program, it can sometimes be difficult for the child and the parents to adjust. Most children will experience some level of separation anxiety -- especially if it is their first time in child care.
Here are some things you can do to make the transition smoother for everyone:
- Provide a transitional schedule, where you have the child ease into the program by attending on a staggered schedule at the beginning -- even if for only a day or so.
- Have the child bring in family photos from home to share with teachers and other children.
- Help parents to make good-byes short and sweet; encourage them not to drag good-byes out, which can make the separation harder for both parent and child.
- Help parents to establish a good-bye ritual if it helps with the transition (for example, saying good-bye at the same door or window each morning).
- Have the child bring in a ?transitional object?: a favorite stuffed animal, blanket, or toy.
- Make it clear that parents can call at anytime during the day to check in and see how their child is doing.
- Encourage parents to pick up at the same time every day during the transitional period, so that the child can learn what to expect and have a secure routine to rely on.
- Make sure to check in with parents at the end of the day, and let them know how their child?s day went.
- Provide a lot of empathy and reassurance to children and parents; explain that these feelings are normal and that their child will adjust very soon.
- Adapt the program during the beginning of the year to welcome children in a low-key way, and plan activities that are inviting, rather than over-stimulating.
- Plan to have a parent?s night during the first few months of the year, during which parents can get to know the teachers and each other.
Daily conversations with parents enable you to build trust with families, and also allow for an exchange of information about a child. These daily check-ins may include how the child?s day went, how the child slept that night, whether a parent is traveling on business that week, or whether or not the child took a nap that day.
Serious problems should not be discussed during daily check-ins, but rather should take place in a private meeting. A parent-provider conference can be set up if there are significant problems or issues to discuss.
There are many ways to communicate daily with parents, other than the quick check-ins that take place in the morning and afternoon.
Some ideas on creating open parent-provider communication include:
- Bulletin boards listing daily activities for each age group
- Lunchtime visits
- Open-door visitation policy for parents
- Daily journals or logs for parents on each child
- A weekly or monthly newsletter for each age group
- Notes or phone calls between parents and providers, as needed
- Emails to parents at home and/or work
- A website for your program.
- Volunteer opportunities for parents posted weekly or monthly
Discussing Difficult Issues
Sometimes, difficult issues or situations arise at child care that are a challenge to bring up and discuss with parents. If you have established an open, trusting mode of communicating with parents in your program, it may be easier to discuss these difficult topics as they come up. Some typical issues include addressing behavioral problems, signs of abuse or neglect, signs that a child may have special needs, health problems, or even a parent?s lack of respect for program policies.
Depending on the type of problem, there may be other considerations, such as your legal obligations in cases of suspected abuse or neglect. Documenting and keeping records of problems that arise is always a good idea.
Here are some things to consider when discussing difficult issues with parents:
- Address issues when they first develop. Putting off a conversation usually makes it harder to bring up later. Don?t wait until parent conferences to discuss serious problems.
- Set up a time to talk in a private place, where you won?t be overheard or interrupted.
- Think about the things that you want to say and how you want to present things.
- Be specific about what the issues are: give concrete examples of things you have observed or have documented.
- Listen to the parent?s observations and explanations. Ask questions so that you can understand the situation and the parent?s point of view.
- End the conversation on a positive, solution-finding note. Make a plan for the next steps to be taken.
- Confidentiality is imperative; any issues you discuss with parents must be held in confidence.
- Most conflicts can be resolved. If for some reason you have an ongoing problem with a parent, you may want to seek a mediator, or decide to terminate the family from the program if there is clear violation of program policies.
Parent- Provider Conferences
Parent-provider conferences are a time set aside for you to discuss a child?s progress and development, and for parents to ask questions of you about their child and the program. These conferences usually happen twice a year, but can occur more often for younger children. A written report should always accompany a conference meeting.
The conference meeting gives you, as a provider, the opportunity to share your observations about a child?s strengths, and to make suggestions for ways that the parents can enhance their child?s development at home. Other important areas to cover include showing examples of a child?s work, sharing the activities that their child seems to enjoy, and stressing ways that their child has made progress over the months.
During a conference, no issue should come as a surprise to a parent. Major problems should have been addressed with the parents when they were first observed.
If additional questions come up during the conference that cannot be addressed at that time, be sure to set up another meeting or make yourself available to speak over the phone.