I think it’s important to clarify what I’m talking about right from the start. So to be clear, I am not talking about when children bully other children in childcare. Nor am I referring to those parents who seem to confuse childcare providers with nannies. And finally I am not even referring to parents who make an occasional request here and there
No who I am referring to is those people who would seek to intimidate a provider into doing something by threatening them in some way. Yes, it happens and it is what I refer to as the real underbelly of childcare. Let’s talk about blackmail and bullying in childcare.
Blackmail & Bullying in Childcare
Strange but, I actually hope that no one knows what I’m talking about here. I don’t think I will ever say that again on this blog.
But in reality, I know that some providers know exactly what this post is about. It’s about being intimidated by a client and possibly being coerced into doing or not doing something.
The reason I am sure some of you have experienced some sort of blackmail and bullying in childcare is that I have heard it from providers more than once.
This can be really ugly! But the fact is it is also unacceptable!
A few years ago I had a set of school-aged twins that I would pick up from our local school. The first year as we were leaving I noticed a sign prominently posted. It said, “This school is a BULLY-FREE ZONE”.
I remember thinking, that’s sad to think a sign like that is needed. I mean is bullying that much of a problem? When I thought that I am sure that I was only associating the behavior of bullying with children.
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What is Bullying in Childcare?
That is until a friend called me a few weeks ago. She said she was calling me for advice.
Apparently one of her childcare clients was requesting that my friend install something in her family childcare home. But when my friend resisted, stating that our licensing agency did not require such an action, things got ugly with this parent.
My friend said that the mom stood up and said that if my friend didn’t do as she had requested, she would disenroll her child. Not only that but the women said that she would tell all the other parents that my friend didn’t care about the well being of the children at her childcare.
I couldn’t believe it. I mean don’t get me wrong, I have had parents say some pretty sideways things to me over the years too. But for a parent to demand an action and then to say if you don’t do something that they would deliberately sabotage things with other clients. That’s ugly!
My friend was obviously upset and didn’t know how to handle the situation. She wanted to know what I thought. Should she do what her client was requesting?
I could tell that she was blindsided and a little hurt too since this was a long-time client.
Terminating is an option
My initial advice was to refuse the client’s demands and terminate their care. And to be honest, I think that is what I would have done.
My reasoning is that usually when you find that a client unwilling to respect your business, not to mention threaten you, the business relationship is seriously damaged.
But my friend didn’t want to terminate because she had known the family for a while. It turns out that the client was pregnant and may have been over-emotional at the time that she made those demands.
My friend informed me that later the client called her back to apologize for what she had said.
Other Providers Too!
The thing is I have heard this type of story before. Another colleague told me about when one of her clients had decided to withdraw.
She told me that her client said that if she didn’t refund the enrollment deposit he would file a false report with licensing. He was going to be willing to lie to licensing and cause my friend to have to defend her business’s reputation not to mention a potential investigation.
I’ve been there
I have even had a few incidents with some of my own former clients.
I once had a parent who was demanding that I change all of the light bulbs in my home. She said she had read that mercury could possibly escape if a lightbulb ever was broken.
Yeah, I refused.
Another client once accused me of not offering her child water because I was “probably trying to avoid changing a few more diapers”. Turns out she really wanted a nanny and her husband wouldn’t sign off on that.
My point is, whatever the motivation, parents can say some shocking things. Although, in my opinion, my clients’ comments didn’t rise to the level of blackmail, bullying in childcare does exist.
What does Bullying in Childcare look like?
When you think of blackmail or bullying it is important to know that it can come in different ways. Bullying in childcare can come in the form of coercion, intimidation, pressure or threats to do something that the provider doesn’t want or need to do.
In both my friends’ case, their clients were obviously trying to intimidate them to get what they were demanding. And in both situations, my friends needed to decide how they would handle the threats.
How to handle Bullying in Childcare
Even before there is an issue, one of the first things to do is to set boundaries for dealing with “client requests”.
If a client requests that you do something that goes against what licensing mandates or your own business policies, it is important to be prepared to defend your business practices.
Developing key policies for your childcare give a provider a solid foundation to enforce their business decisions.
The second thing to do is to realize if you are experiencing bullying or blackmail. Ask yourself –
- Is a client asking you to do something that you don’t feel you need to do?
- Is the client indicating that they will retaliate if you don’t conform to their demands?
If so, this is a form of bullying or blackmail. Depending on how you are experiencing this, decide whether or not you want to continue a business relationship with the client. If not, consider terminating care.
If terminating care is not your choice, don’t be afraid to stand behind your decisions. Your childcare is your business. You are the provider, director, CEO, and the boss. As the boss, you make the decisions about what will happen with your business.
I have written before about some pretty unexpected things when you get into childcare. And you know, I would have to say that bullying in childcare is probably on that list. You just wouldn’t expect it out of people.
That being said, most people would agree that bullying in any form is wrong. I would definitely agree that in our childcare businesses it is especially unacceptable.
Just like that sign posted at the school, our businesses need to be a Bully-Free Zone.
Listen, I hope that you never have an occasion to experience bullying in childcare. But should you notice this type of client behavior, hopefully, this post has helped you know exactly how to recognize and handle it.