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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Three mistakes I have made when talking to parents

A guest post by Mark Lim: Early Years Childcare

When I switched careers from finance to childcare, I expected communicating with parents would be a breeze. I mean, I used to write all sorts of long boring reports and liaise with big fancy financial institutions handling tons of cash. How hard could it be talking to parents about their child’s day?

As it turned out, pretty hard!

Here are some of the mistakes I made, which you can hopefully avoid:

Talking too little

What I did: I read somewhere that relief staff shouldn’t talk to parents about their children. That’s the responsibility of full-time staff. In my first childcare setting, I was a relief staff, and so I took the approach of hanging in the background unless I was directly questioned about something.

The result: I didn’t get to share some of the many wonderful experiences of the children. Whether or not I was a full-time member of staff, I still spent a lot of time with the children, and so there were things that only I witnessed or knew about. If I didn’t open my mouth about it, the full-time staff would just read mechanically off the child’s daily sheet. On top of that, I came off as shy and lacking confidence during my appraisals. Huh!

Talking too much

What I did: At my second childcare setting, parents took a greater interest in the course I was doing, namely the Early Years Professional Status (EYPS) course. I still remember how it warmed my heart the first time a parent sincerely took interest in my personal life, rather than just focusing on themselves and their children. With such an interesting new topic of discussion (ME! ME! ME!), who could help but become more engaged in prolonged conversation?

The result: Establishing rapport with parents can be a good thing, but you know what they say about too much of a good thing. The best opportunity to talk with parents is usually at the end of the day, but it’s also the most chaotic time as parents are picking up their kids. As I stood around chatting nicely about myself and the EYPS, I was effectively a non-member of staff. The chaos in the room quickly worsened, as did my colleague’s temperaments!

Parents already know EVERYTHING

What I did: Having little childcare-related experience, I assumed that everybody was an expert except for me. Therefore, it felt silly to tell the expert parents little details about their child’s day, like how many minutes she’d slept or that she’s picked the pink car or she’d coughed a total of 3 times that day. What could I tell a parent that they didn’t already know?

The result: Rushing through a child’s daily report ALWAYS led to parents slowing me down and asking for further details. Parents (first time parents anyway) are obsessively interested in their child’s day, and welcome ANY piece of additional information. If I told them their child had been staring at a blank wall, they’d ask me what colour the wall was. Besides, most parents never tire of hearing about their own children, especially when it clearly shows that a member of staff has been paying close attention to their child.

Mistakes are always obvious and easy to avoid once you know about them. Can you think of any you’ve experienced? Don’t be shy, share it out loud in the comments section!

P.S. I’d like to thank Deborah for giving me some space to rant, I very much appreciate it.

Be sure to see Mark's latest post on his blog titled "Communicating with Your baby: Baby Signs"

Thank you Mark for sharing your experiences as a new teacher in ece with us on my blog. Please come back sometime and share with us again!



Vanessa said...

What's a "relief staff"? I'm assuming "EYPS" is like a CDA in the US?


Mark said...

Hi Vanessa!

A relief staff is someone who's on call, in case there's not enough permanent staff on a particular day. Usually given pretty regular work, but of course if business slows or costs have to be cut... ;)

I'm not familiar with the CDA, but an EYP is meant to be a postgraduate level professional, who's supposed to "lead practice" and "enable positive change". :) That's pretty subjective of course.

More info at:

Hope that answers your questions.


Ayn Colsh said...

Great post! :)
Isn't great how we evolve as teachers AND communicators? I remember when I first started, I was hesitant to really "talk" to parents, for fear of getting them upset. Now I love the opportunity to connect with them. With good communication, I can more effectively meet the "underlying" needs of my students, as well as the regular day to day issues!

Teacher Tom said...

The greatest advantage of working in a cooperative preschool is that the parents are my assistant teachers. I really get to know and rely on them, which means communications are wide open. I rarely have to give reports or assessments because we've already talked about everything.

The thing I remind myself about every day is that when I talk to parents about their kids, I'm addressing them on the most important topic in their lives, bar none. You're right, every detail is interesting to them and you really can't give them enough information.

Mark said...

Thanks Ayn. :)

Sometimes the problem isn't evolving, but actually realising you need to evolve, if you get what I mean. ;)

Hi Tom! :)

Forgive my ignorance, but what's a cooperative preschool?

Strengthening relationships with parents is great, but unfortunately I'm only at my work placements for blocks of 10 weeks at a time. Just when you feel you're part of one big family, it's time to go!


miss carly said...

I am not allowed to communicate with parents whilst on my practicals, and I find it so difficult to step back from that role and have to pass them onto someone else, especially when I have been a room leader before and have been the one who is always talking to parents.

I find that sometimes I will talk too much or for too long, but I always am still observing, even if it is just in a small area, I am continually looking around to make sure that my conversation isnt putting the children at risk. Usually parents will notice what I am doing, and they dont mind, they know I am there to look after the children but shows that they are still a priority to me, and that discussing their child's day is a crucial part of both the child's day and their own.

I love to talk as you can tell, sorry the comment is so long.

Oh and being from Australia, I have no idea what the EYP is. Off to look at that link you gave!

Teacher Tom said...

@Mark . . . A cooperative school is one that is owned an operated by the parents with children enrolled in the school. As the teacher, I'm the only paid employee. Every other function in the school is performed by the parents, from administration to janitorial. Each parent also works with me in the classroom at least one day a week as an "assistant teacher." It's a fantastic set-up for the right teacher in that the people responsible for my hiring/firing/evaluation are also working under my direction on a day-to-day basis. We're constantly talking about the children (theirs and those of other parents). Not only do parents get to see how their child is doing in class for themselves, but they also get to take part in the real learning that takes place in our play-based curriculum. Most co-ops wind up building a real sense of community -- almost like an extended family -- which is a great environment for young children.

Mark said...

Hi Carly!

Wow, Deborah's got a worldwide audience! :)

Yea, when you're doing something you love, it's easy to get over-excited and talkative about it. :)


Mark said...

@Tom: I've never heard of such a thing before, what an intriguing idea!

Who pays for expenses? i.e. the property, salaries, expenses, etc?

Don't suppose you've got more reading material on it?


Deborah (Teach Preschool) said...

Mark - I highly recommend that you visit Tom's blog where he talks about his classroom and the program he teaches in. I read his blog daily:)

Some of his posts describe the cooperative program in detail. Other posts share Tom's perspective on what children are learning and how they learn.

Valerie @ Frugal Family Fun Blog said...

What a great guest post! I learned so much from this. Thanks!

jenny said...

I've made all these mistakes, and I'm sure many others along the way. Nothing beats one on one communication with parents though, no matter how many little mistakes you might make.

I find that having the photos of the day (with the "show, don't tell" mindset) is a great prompt to talk about the learning that has happened during the day.


Mark said...

Deborah: I'll check it out this weekend, if I'm not too buried under written assignments. :) Does he dress like that everyday?

Valerie: Glad you liked it! :)

Jenny: I've yet to master the art of taking photos of kids. :) They're either simply not looking, or covered in snot and drool. =-P


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