The hardest conversations teachers must have are those about children with whom we have concerns. But no matter how hard the conversations are for you as a teacher, they are a million times harder for the parents who have to hear it.
Conversations about concerns should only happen once you have established a positive and supportive relationship with the parents in question. That means that you can’t approach a difficult subject until you have approached easy subjects first. The “getting-to-know-you-period” is critical in the long-term success of a teacher/parent relationship. For the first few weeks, if not months, the teacher’s job is to help the parents or guardians feel safe and supported in the program. This establishes the foundation required to work together to provide the best experience for the child.
Once the relationship is established and you and the family have interacted in several positive ways, you can broach the topic of concern in a sensitive manner.
First, be sure to speak to families in a setting that is confidential and private. It is very important that families know that the will not be disturbed by children, other staff, or other people in the program. It is equally important the child in question is not present for this conversation.
Be sure to be prepared. Take notes about your concerns based on objective observations. Observe the child several times so you have a record of ongoing behaviors, or developmental concerns that can be supported with data. Be specific. Don’t under exaggerate or over exaggerate. Be sure to put the concern into a developmental context so that parents have a sense of typical behaviors or development. Don’t assume that parents understand or are familiar with the expectations and patterns of development that we have come to expect.
Invite the parents to participate in the conversation. Don’t talk over them, but engage them in a dialogue. Ask questions about their own observations and how those coincide with yours. If they become angry or they don’t agree with you, empathize with their feelings and give them time and space to digest the information. You may want to suggest a further investigation or referral but this might have to wait.
Do not diagnose the child. Allow other professionals to do this. It is not your job or place to label children. It is your job and place to direct families in the right direction to get the help they need.
Some parents might be eager to get more information, so be prepared with educational literature, a list of referrals, and any other resources you might have. Support them as they seek help. Be ready to answer more questions and have subsequent meetings.
You may encounter families that will need even more support as they may not speak English as their first language, which may compound their anxiety as they seek more professional help. Some families may also need help navigating the financial aspects of additional services. Be prepared to support them with this as well.