Why Parent Communication Matters
Me: How was your day?
Me: What’d you learn at school?
Me: How was basketball practice?
Daughter: WHY ARE YOU INTERROGATING ME?
If you have ever spent time anywhere near a teenager, this probably sounds familiar. It’s what most parents hear pretty much every day from kids that age. But what did I get out of that conversation that I didn’t know going in?
Here’s what I already knew before she even got in the car, buckled up, slumped in her seat, and stared grumpily into the depths of her phone screen:
- She went to school that day.
- There was basketball practice after school.
Here’s what I learned from our brief - but typical - conversation:
- I was apparently wasting money on tuition because she learned “nothing” that day.
- My interrogation skills needed some serious work.
Now, pay careful attention to item #1 on the “what I learned” list. I was wasting my tuition on “nothing.”
If you’re communicating “nothing,” that’s what parents may think they are getting for the money they are paying to your program. If that’s the case, “nothing” might just prompt them to start looking for something else when it comes to choosing where to spend their money for the care and education of their children.
Parent communication is key to building and maintaining a healthy level of parent involvement in your childcare or preschool program - and keeping their children in your school.
“Nothing” looks the same at 3 as it does at 13.
Have you ever asked a couple of 3-year-olds what they did that morning? Chances are, you received about the same amount of information as you would have from a sulky teenager. At afternoon pick-up, a toddler doesn’t remember all the little details parents crave.
Moreover, most toddlers don’t have the communication skills to give a play by play on important things like naptime, potties, diaper changes, and behavior. So, if you’re not keeping parents in the loop, you're showing them “nothing.”
What does that say about your program? Nothing. And in the absence of any real information, parents will be looking around for someone to provide them with… well, something.
Some Parent Communication is Required for Licensing.
Parents of toddlers are lucky. Because children in that age group aren’t able to communicate the “vitals” of the day on their own, most state and local licensing agencies require that childcare organizations provide parents with paperwork documenting any of the following:
- Potties & Diapers - Every parent wants to know about potty success. All of them. Tracking how often, how soon after a meal or nap, and what the results were not only help Mom and Dad reinforce these little victories with praise and rewards, it enables them to understand the routine and apply those same habits, timelines, and practices at home.
Not much in a diaper that should be wet? This information may prompt parents to consider a visit to the pediatrician. Is an infant making grunting noises but not producing anything? This could be another warning sign for parents to keep watch.
- Naps - Providing the details about a nap could open the door for two-way communication between you and parents. Ever hear the expression “over-tired” and think to yourself “How can that be? If you’re tired, just go to sleep?”
That logic might work for you and me, but for a cranky, tired toddler, it doesn’t apply. Prepare parents for a pooped little one so they can proceed with patience at pickup.
Conversely, if a little one had a tough night sleeping, you can be better prepared for a little grouchiness in class and will have some advance notice to plan some extra quiet time.
- Meals & Snacks - Changes in eating habits can help parents understand a few things, like what a toddler likes to eat at snack time and how much to send in with them.
When an infant progresses to wanting to self-feed by picking up noodles and cheerios, that’s something Mom and Dad need to know so they can make decisions and send the appropriate foods to school in the right quantities.
A usually robust eater who pokes at food or refuses it outright may be telling you that something’s not quite right. Perhaps a stomach bug is on the horizon.
If a child’s doctor has concerns about unexplained weight loss, or there’s an allergic reaction, knowing exactly what a child ate that day or having a record to identify a pattern of recent eating habits, can be crucial to diagnosing more serious issues.
- Behaviors & Moods - Recording and reporting on moods and behaviors is not only helpful for parents to understand what kind of night might be ahead of them, it can be helpful to you and other staff to establish behavior patterns and identify anomalies.
If Sammy is fussy at the end of naptime every day, perhaps you and Sammy’s parents can get together and strategize ways to ease her into the afternoon. Mom and Dad may have some great tips about what works at home, and you can, in turn, share what has worked for you in the past. After all, that parent-teacher collaboration and cooperation is an important part of every child’s care and education.
Recording behavior is also great backup when a child’s repeated aggressive behavior begins to have a negative impact on other children. Biting is a common one that needs to be tracked and reported right away so action can be taken to stop the behavior or remove the child from your program.
- Outside Play - This one isn’t required in some areas, but it is still nice to give parents a sense of how much time kids are spending outdoors and what they are doing. At the very least, it's a conversation starter to jog a little one’s memory.
This can also be valuable when those inevitable “toddler tall tales” arise - when a little imagination causes big problems. Be ready to translate “Tyler hit me” to “Tyler hit me with a ball by accident when we were playing outside” to nip a quick case of parent panic in the bud.
This documentation can also help you identify a behavior pattern that you can address as soon as you notice it. For example, if every kid who plays in the sandbox with Hannah ends up in tears, it may be worth keeping an extra eye out for sandbox shenanigans.
You don’t have to rely on paper forms to handle these types of parent communications anymore - there’s an app for that, and it can change the way you communicate with parents for the better. Apps like EZSmiles, when used with EZCare, can handle all your parent communication needs with a few taps of a smartphone or tablet.
Share the feels, feel the love.
If you’ve ever left a child at daycare or school for the first time, you know all too well the bottomless pit of anxiety, guilt, and fear-of-missing-out in your stomach as you go through your workday. And you also know it lasts well past the first day.
When the aforementioned 13-year-old went to preschool for the first time, she clung to my leg and cried when I dropped her off. I sat in my car and cried, then sat on my couch and cried, then stared at the clock and cried. My car was the first one in the parking lot at pickup.
What I would have given for a picture message that morning, showing me that she had settled in and was happily coloring or playing with a new friend. What I would have done for a quick video of her at recess running in the playground with a new friend.
Every family member would have seen it (if there was social media back then, I would have shared it). Every friend would have heard about it. Every neighbor would have been told “I love Somerton Nursery, and here’s why.”
That’s what “something" looks like. And that makes all the difference.