Things You Should Never Say to a Preschool Parent
Since as teachers our primary responsibility is students, we sometimes forget about a special, unique part of our job: the teacher-parent relationship. It can be so hard for a parent to find a center or school they can trust with their precious cargo, and even harder to find a teacher they trust to make their children the best they can be. Depending on the resources available to the parent, finding quality care and education for their children can be a difficult and even scary task.
One unique aspect of preschool-age children is that they often haven’t been left alone with many adults other than parents or family members before going off to preschool. This means there is a huge transition for both parent and child and much emotion is involved.
As teachers and directors it is our job to help this process go smoothly. As teachers we don’t have all the emotions or biases surrounding each child which often gives us a clearer picture of issues that may arise in the classroom. However, just because an issue can be more clear to a teacher does not mean that she or he should address it with the parent.
Teachers must tread carefully when dealing with preschool parents, especially if it is a particular child's first time away from home. Although it is not always well understood, our goal as teachers is to support both the child and the parent by making sure that the child is physically, mentally and emotionally safe while at school. Letting parents know that this is your goal can be a great relief, but saying the wrong thing in a sticky situation can result in quite the opposite.
After years of experience in a preschool setting as teacher, director, and now a parent, I have learned what NOT TO SAY. Yes, many of these I have learned the hard way which is why I am here today to save you the heartache (and headache) I have experienced.
Today I will share 6 things to never say to a preschool parent (even if you might want to ;) :
1. “Just leave, your child is better without you here”
Preschool drop offs can be difficult for both parent and child. We as teachers need to appreciate this, and try to help ease the process as much as possible. Rather than insult or dismiss parents, I like to educate them on separation anxiety and show them that it is both normal and temporary. One website I love to share is the Parents.com website, where they have some great resources including How to Help Preschoolers Overcome Separation Anxiety.
I also always let the parent know that their child is going to be okay and that I will call them immediately if they aren’t. Depending on the severity of the anxiety you could have the parent stay in the lobby for a period of time on the first day or two of school, and remind them that you are in this together, that you have seen this many times before, and that this too shall pass.
2. “Stop Overreacting”
Ok here is the deal, preschool parents will overreact due to the emotion and biases that I mentioned earlier but never call them out, especially not in public! A better way to de-escalate the situation is to acknowledge their fears and deal with it in private. You could say something like “I see you’re upset, why don’t we step into my office and talk about it” or “it means a lot to me that you and your child feel safe here at our center, let’s schedule a time to sit down and discuss how we can make that happen”. Both of these can help to defuse the situation rather than ramp up the pressure. With parents and children alike we always want to remember that simply listening does wonders as often they just want their concerns to be heard. If we’re honest, we appreciate the same courtesies ourselves: When we listen and give space for people to be understood then it always helps and often leads to resolving the issue itself.
3. “Your Child is a Bully”
Bully is a loaded word, especially today. As teachers we should never diagnose or label children PERIOD. It is not our job, nor is it helpful. Yes, a child may be showing characteristics of bullying, but calling them a bully will not help solve the underlying issue.
A better way to address this is to talk about the behaviors that you are seeing. This is a great way to state the facts and gives you more room to create an action plan with the parents based on these facts.
In these situations, it’s so important to document EVERYTHING. When it comes to child behaviors we must write it down and have a log of facts. You can use pen and paper, word processor or ideally annotate it in your childcare software, and even though it is not always necessary to share this with parents, you should always write it down as you may need it later on, especially if an issue arises with a specific child who has a history. It also shows that you are aware of the issues in your classroom and are taking steps to deal with them.
4. “Your Child is Lazy”
This should be a no-brainer, but sadly I have heard it being said to parents. Once again we want to remember that parents often see their child as a reflection of themselves. If we call their child lazy guess what, we are calling them lazy. In addition, it is insulting while not dealing with the issue at hand, it’s much better to state facts and look for solutions. An example of this is to tell a parent, “your child did not complete an activity today, how can we better motivate them next time?”
With Preschool age children especially I would always address ‘laziness’ as an engagement issue. Maybe brainstorm with parents what their interests might be and how you can better engage their child. This places the issue on you and makes it easier for the parent to discuss. It also helps you get to know the child better which leads to increased success and shows the parents that you care for their children as individuals.
5. “Your Child has no Friends”
The last thing a parent wants to worry about is their child at school all day with no friends. I am a firm believer that as teachers our job is to make friends. If there is a child in your class who has no friends, help them make one. That is a HUGE part of what they are learning in preschool anyways!! Take the time to create opportunities for them to connect with other children whom you think they could be friends with. If they still aren’t connecting, guess what, you get to be their friend until they do!
6. “Stop Enabling your Child”
The cold hard truth is the generation coming up right now is often being raised by parents who do just about everything for them. This is the culture that we live in and YES I am going to do everything I can to stop it. However, as a teacher it is not our job to tell parents how to parent.
If a parent wants to solve all their child's problems for them at 4 years old, or even at 12 years old, that is their choice. I know this sounds a bit crazy, but hear me out. Eventually this behavior will catch up with them, but for now we silently lead by example in the classroom. Besides, we are teaching preschoolers, not high school or college students. At the preschool age we let parents be parents however they want, while we foster independence and resilience in a classroom atmosphere. The consequences of helicopter parenting are beyond our control, so we need to simply do our best to counteract these methods with quality classroom care and instruction, while holding our tongue with our (let’s face it) unwanted parenting tips.
As I finish up this blog it feels a little bit strange. Addressing a topic like this can feel harsh and heavy. I do believe, however, that as educators it is our job to deal with hard situations and we should practice how to best help parents help their children be successful, while staying out of issues that are none of our business. None of the 6 items above are doing that so it is important that we steer clear, while sticking to facts and redirecting to possible solutions.
Some more tips for positive teacher-parent engagement: encourage parents, remind them to take a break, tell them where their child is succeeding, help them find quality parenting resources and help guide them and their children as they navigate the monumental task of raising their children. Above all being a teacher is a great calling and a difficult task, but so is being a parent and most parents need (and appreciate) all the help and positive support that they can get!
Thank you for being one of the brave who have set out to teach, nurture and invest in our next generation. May you do it with pride and remember everyday that you are making an impact!
Thank you for listening and feel free to ask me if you have any questions about these important but seldom practiced parent-teacher interactions!