I have had the opportunity to care for hundreds of children (and parents) over the last 20 years. I always felt it was an "opportunity" because parents felt their children were safe, loved and well cared for when they were with me or my staff. I was fortunate when my children were small; we didn't have fancy child care centers but I did have some pretty amazing caregivers who I had known most of my life or at least had known their parents/families. I never had to stress about how my child was being cared for; I knew they were being cared for just as I would care for them.
But today, few parents actually KNOW the people caring for their children; they have to put their trust in complete strangers with the care of their precious children. They need to be assured their child is getting the best possible care. So when a parent would question me, call me about a concern, or have any problem whatsoever, I would do my best to be patient and reassure them; not just that we were taking good care of their child, but also that it was OK for them to have questions and concerns. I worried a lot more about the parent that NEVER questioned anything or ever made an unscheduled visit! Parents were always welcome to "drop-in" at my center at any time; but I did ask that they respect quiet/nap times so the children could rest without being disturbed. We have all heard the horror stories about those who are not caring for children appropriately so I can see why parents are nervous about leaving their children, especially before they are able to talk. And things do happen even at the best programs; children fall down and get hurt occasionally, another child may hit or bite them, or they may have to take a time out but it should always be OK for a parent to be concerned and ask questions when they things do happen.
Everyday Exchange Dennis Vicars provides some great information for those who care for children:
"Parents have every right to question us, demand from us, and at times be difficult with us," writes Dennis in his article, "We the Parents," in the special July/August, 2013 issue of Exchange focusing on Rights. In this article, in which he proposes a "Parents Bill of Rights," Vicars observes...
"[Parents] have placed supreme confidence in us or they would not have enrolled their child with us. So much in life is about attitude, and when we can change ours to reflect that of a parent (our customer) we begin to take on a partnership that is in the best interest of the child. A parent who questions us wants to join us in the growth and development of their child. A parent who demands from us is being an advocate for their child. A parent who is difficult is asking us to help them overcome their guilt, anxiety, and stress that require our patience, education, and open-mindedness. These parents are asking us to save them because they don't want to leave us. No three-year-old child writes a tuition check, so we had better make sure that mom and dad are cared for and have the ability and encouragement to participate in their child's care and education.
"I believe so strongly in customer service to our parents because I am honored that they would choose me to help care for and educate their most prized possession. I also know that the magic triangle of success for a child can only take place if child, teacher, and parent are working together as a team. I can think of no other field that has to reconfirm to their customer on a daily basis that they made a good purchasing decision. No other field has the responsibility for a young life like we have in ECE and, therefore, we owe parents the respect they deserve for the trust they have displayed in choosing us to care for and help shape their child's life."
So true! I would also include parents as often as possible; ask them to join you when the children go on field trip; ask for volunteers to help out in the center or possibly to help make items for an activity; have them come visit and share with the children what they do at their jobs; help with fundraisers; etc. Including them in their child's life as much as possible will ease their minds and make them feel like they are involved in their child's care.
A weekly newsletter is always a good idea; let them know what is happening in your center and what activities the children are involved in. Let them know what books you are reading to the children, what games they have been playing, what songs you have been singing, and what crafts they are working on. Also, conferences are also a good way to communicate to parents. This is a time you can talk to them one on one about their child, and if the child is having some issues, remember, to always find something good to say about them. EVERY child has something positive about them that you can share with the parent; they helped a friend, they helped the teacher, they shared, they had good manners, they said something funny, etc. Remember to put yourself in the parent's place and think about what you would like to know about their child's day. Keeping open communication between you and the parents will make your job much easier and even more rewarding.
Sue Junge is an Early Childhood Support Specialist for the Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area and is a Thursday columnist for the Times-Republican. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don't necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. For more information, please visit www.iowarivervalleyeca.com.