So you do all this work, advertise, someone called, they come for a tour, and now they want to sign up. You got a new client! YEA! So how did we get to only a month later and it’s turning into confrontation after confrontation? Just about every conversation is a confrontation. Well before the next irruption and hopefully long before you think of terminating that client, you probably worked so hard to get, let’s see if we can’t turn things around. How can providers have effective communication with parents without constant confrontations?
Effective Communication with Parents
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Sometimes the most challenging thing for a provider can be communicating with parents. Still I am sure you will agree, it is better to avoid a problem situation rather than attack a problem situation.
The thing is I have found there always seems to be a challenging family at the daycare in some form or another. Maybe they are the family who is always late picking up or maybe they “forget” their tuition every week or they always want to make a change to their schedule. No matter the issue, a wise provider needs to find effective ways to enforce their rules and policies without alienating the family and loosing clients.
A provider friend once noted just how many factors it can take to get that next client. They have to see your ad, be compelled to call, actually come in for a tour and then be impressed enough to enroll. That’s a lot of work! Maybe a little extra effort in the way of communicating with parents to maintain that relationship will make all that work worth it.
While many providers feel and it’s certainly a nice sentiment to feel like you are family to your clients, the reality is many parents are overtired, overwhelmed, and in many cases over it. Some parents tend to get the provider and nanny roles a bit mixed up. I know that it is difficult not to become emotionally attached to the families that we serve, however you may find that maintaining a professional persona is much more beneficial to you as a provider.
I have found that it is best for me not to react or respond when I am mad or frustrated. It is best if I can put some time and space in between.
So are there any secrets to conflict-free communication with parents?
Well while these may not be secrets, I have found a few strategies that limit misunderstandings and promote a respectful relationship between the provider and the parent.
Strategies for Effective Communication with Parents
Something that I changed over the years was informing parents of the regulations that I needed to follow is a state licensed child care provider. Nowadays I will mention to that parent who is constantly late that the food program mandates that we serve meals in specific time frames. When I started I never would have divulged that information and simply would have expected the parents to respect and follow my rules. Over time I realized that many of them were under the impression that I pulled my policies and practices out of thin air, which may be why they expected me to bend on them whenever they would ask. Only after I began informing them that many of my policies were in place to align with state regulations did they seem to understand and comply. All of a sudden I was met with less resistance when I communicated in this way.
One of the strategies that I started using a few years ago was to come up with a simple, non-emotional responses to routine issues that I confronted regularly. What I did was to create a series of short messages that can be sent out in a mass or individual email or even text to parents whenever I feel the need. Having these pre-written notes allows me to not over-react (versus under-react for that matter) or allow my frustration to turn into a confrontation.
I have a weekly reminder note for tuition, one for maintaining contracted pick-up/drop-off times and even a reminder for how to request schedule changes. These notes are sent out quite regularly, some weekly, whenever I see an issue becoming a problem. These reminders also tend to tickle the memory of parents who have long since forgotten specific policies outlined in their contract.
I have found that in recent years using pre-written notes, memos, emails, etc. work best for me. It limits many awkward exchanges at drop-off or pick-up when I am either busy or tired. Plus it has the added benefit of calling my attention if I have to send repeated communications to a certain family.
Back in my days working in corporate America, the term “interpersonal skills” was something that I remember highlighting on my resume. Many years later, I now believe that whether in corporate life or in small businesses like our child cares, developing our interpersonal skills can make a huge impact in our relationships with our clients.
Respect is a two-way street so maybe taking the time to see things from the other persons perspective could give you some clarity about why communications might be strained.
If you see a problem or a potential problem arising try working it out this way:
- What’s the problem? Is it a real problem? Is a rule or regulation issue?
- How did it arise? Did you let it go for too long?
- Ask questions. Is the family going through something? Is the child having any problems at home?
- What’s the solution? How can you get to the solution? If it could be fixed today, what would that look like?
- What can you do to avoid the problem in the future? Can you give more clarification or documentation in your communication with parents that would help avoid this?
- Can you find a point of agreement with the parent?
Make them a Sandwich
A method that I learned in child development is what’s called “The Sandwich Method”. It’s very simple to use. When talking with a parent you start off by saying something good, you follow that with something that needs to be worked on or the issue that’s a problem and you finish with something good again. See how you sandwich that in? I know that it can be hard sometimes to find something good to say but even if you have to complement a parent on their outfit that day, trying to find something nice to say can sometimes ease the pain of hearing something unpleasant. No parent wants to be confronted with a bad report about their child at the end of their workday.
Easier said than done, you say? Well maybe. Probably! But why not put a little effort in building and maintaining at least a cordial relationship with that client you worked so hard to get. And sometimes that is all it takes, a little extra effort.
Do you sometimes have difficulties communicating with parents? How have you resolved conflicts with parents? I would love to hear from you. Let’s chat below.