There’s no getting around the fact that the children you care for at your Early Childhood Education program and their parents come as a packaged deal. Inevitably, you will run into a sticky situation with either the child or the parent that will require you to engage in a difficult conversation with the parent. Many childcare providers view angry or upset parents as one of the biggest challenges of running a daycare, sometimes even more than a disruptive child. In the following guide, we cover actionable steps you can take to navigate a difficult conversation with a parent.
Initiate a Face-to-Face Conversation
When a situation at your daycare arises that will require you to have a conversation with a parent, make every effort to meet with them in person. No matter if the problem is related to the child’s behavior, the parent’s lack of adherence to your daycare policies, or any other area of concern you want to address, it’s better to discuss face-to-face. Navigating potentially emotional discussions via text message or email is generally not a good idea. Too much can be misinterpreted, and it’s not an effective means of problem-solving. Instead, initiate a meeting at a time that is convenient for both of you and sit down to have a conversation.
Be An Active Listener
Whether the issue at hand is brought up by you or the parent, be committed to a stance of active listening. As much as you may want to jump in and correct the parent about what is actually going on from your perspective, or comment on anything he or she has to say, hold yourself back from doing so. You can de-escalate a hostile or angry parent by simply allowing them to express their views to you without interruption. You do not have to agree with them. You also do not have to tolerate abusive language or behavior from them (this would be the time to speak up and set your boundaries). Active listening allows you to gain a greater understanding of the problem, see things from the parent’s perspective, and get clarification where needed.
Check in with Your Own Feelings
Difficult conversations are fraught with emotions. It’s wise to check in with your own feelings before, during, and after a confrontation with a parent. It’s okay to feel angry, upset, confused, or defensive. Acknowledge your feelings to yourself and do your best to respond to the situation from an objective standpoint, rather than letting your emotions rule the conversation. This can be a great way to maintain your perspective and professional demeanor and focus on problem-solving. Being aware of any negative emotions while choosing not to act on them takes a lot of strength, but it is a great tool for diffusing a tense situation.
Acknowledge the Issue
Whether the problem at hand is one you bring up to the parent or one he or she brings up to you, acknowledge the issue and identify it as a problem that needs to be solved. You may completely disagree with the parent’s reasoning, and you may feel you have done nothing wrong. That’s perfectly okay. You can apologize for the parent’s frustration without apologizing for something you didn’t do. You can also acknowledge the problem without indicating that you are the source of it. Try to find some common ground. When you verbally recognize the problem, many times parents will feel validated, like they are being heard and taken seriously.
Come up with a Solution
In the midst of a difficult conversation with a parent, it can be tough to remember that you and they are on the same team: you both want to do what’s best for their child. Keep the conversation focused on finding a solution that works for everyone. Do your best to understand where the parent is coming from by putting yourself in their shoes. Be firm about your requirements, whether it’s a child’s behavior issue that needs to be addressed or a policy or procedure that the family needs to respect and follow. Reassure the parent that you are committed to helping them reach a resolution to help you better care for their child. Reminding yourself and them that you are on the same team helps put things into perspective for you both.
Choose a time to follow up the conversation with another meeting or check-in, preferably in the near future. Developing a plan of action and following up on it quickly helps you resolve issues faster and helps the parent feel like you are taking their concerns (or your own) seriously. When you follow up, determine whether the problem has been resolved and whether additional steps need to be taken to reach a resolution.
Know When to Draw the Line
Finally, after you have made every attempt to resolve the problem peaceably and professionally, it’s important to recognize when it may be time to draw a line in the sand. Abusive language and actions, blatant disregard for your childcare policies and procedures, and a refusal to work with you to resolve the problem are behaviors that no childcare professional should tolerate. Know when it’s time to guide a family toward finding a childcare facility that is a “better fit”—for them, and for you.
Navigating a difficult conversation with a parent will likely never be one of your favorite things about running your daycare business. However, choosing to address problems head on and following the guidelines we have outlined in this article will help you resolve sticky situations and create a better childcare environment for the families you serve, your team, and yourself.
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