Friday, April 8, 2011
Sharing Difficult News with Parents
As early education teachers we are often faced with sharing difficult news with parents about how their child is developing. A behavior or lack of a behavior that might have gone unnoticed in a small playgroup will be observed and recorded once a child starts his/her formal education in a preschool or kindergarten setting.
Although children develop at different ages and a range of abilities exist in all classrooms, we do have norms, standards and benchmarks that we are using to monitor young children and help us, as their teachers, know how to best serve them.
When we notice red flag behaviors- those that are farther off the norm than we’d like; speech delays, speech impairments, sensory issues, behavior issues and so on-and have had time to document them and see a pattern, it is time to discuss the issues with the parents.
These meetings can be difficult. No parent wants to hear anything negative about his/her child. It is important to have objective observations to discuss; examples of the behavior. Avoid labeling the behavior with terms such as naughty, bad, bully, etc.
I always like to start off with positive comments about the child. I also think of every meeting with a parent as an information gathering session, rather than just a time for me to tell them what I see. Children can be so different at home-or behave exactly the same-this is important information. Asking if a parent has noticed the behavior, and if so, when and where does it appear? What has the parent found to be successful with this? Have they sought other opinions? Explaining to parents that we are a team, all working together for the success of their child often takes away any defensiveness. Reassuring them that you are looking for information, possibly from outside professionals, so that you can best help their child rather than simply looking for a label and a way to pass off the work that needs to be done, is much less threatening.
It will often take several meetings with parents for them to accept the fact that their child has an issue. It is one of the most difficult aspects of parenting. We all want our children to be perfectly healthy, to develop normally and to be happy. We want our children to be loved and accepted. When these red flag behaviors are raised a state of denial may exist with parents. As teachers, we need to be prepared with our documentation and to work with these parents to come to terms with the situation. However, I want to stress to do this with care, and nurturing and empathy. And when acceptance does come, to be prepared for the emotions that will accompany the realization that the problem is not repairing itself, the child is not simply “growing out of it” or “catching up” and more intervention is needed.
I try and put the need for intervention in perspective for parents this way, “if you child had strep throat you would take him to the doctor, if he needed glasses, you would get him fitted for glasses, if he had allergies, you would make changes, and so on.”
“We will gather all the information we can from various specialists¸ consultants, other teachers, and use it to provide the best learning environment we can at home and at school. We are a team paving the way for the road that your child needs.”
It is one of the more difficult aspects of our role as primary educators, but one of the most important. Early intervention can solve or mitigate so many issues. Being armed with all of the proper research, detailed information from parents and advice from specialists can make our classroom environment conducive to fostering this child’s development and giving him the help he needs.
Let’s just not forget that mom and dad may need our help as well. Feelings and emotions go hand and hand in this process and need to be strongly considered in how information is relayed. When you do the reward will be an empowered parent ready to work with you.
And you may even get a heartfelt “thank you, that meeting was really helpful” like I did today. It is moments like this that solidify why I have dedicated my life to working with children and their families.