How To Communicate Effectively With Parents

Cooperation and support from parents can lead to a positive atmosphere and experience at camp. Open houses, visitors day, first day of camp – whatever the day, many directors, counselors and other staff find these meetings crucial to ensuring a good camp experience. Parents have high expectations for their children and if a first impression leaves the parents feeling confident, then the meeting will allow for a positive camp/parent relationship during the camp season. When talking to parents there are certain techniques that help make the interaction easier and more positive.

  • Normalization: Parents like to know that they are not the only ones experiencing problems with their children; it helps ease the sense of failure and the fear of being labeled a “bad” parent. An example of normalization is the following: instead of saying to a parent “your son Johnnie is throwing a lot of temper tantrums,” try saying “many of the children are at the age where due to frustration they are acting up, we are not sure how to handle it. Do you have any suggestions?” Not only is this making the parent aware of the problem, but it allows them to be part of the solution.
  • Listen, stay curious: By listening and asking questions, parents tend to be far more receptive when it comes time for them to listen to the counselor/director. We must respect a parents’ expertise on their own children. Parents tend to get defensive when staff communicate as though they know the child better. A simple question like “tell me about Cindy,” can relax a parent by allowing them to feel like an authority.
  • Avoid disagreement: When talking with a parent never argue or assume an oppositional/confrontational position- even if you are right; in doing so, you run the risk of losing the trust and cooperation of the parent. It is important to establish an environment where parents and staff work together to solve problems.
  • Identify strengths and resources: Remember, everyone has strengths and everyone has resources to draw from when solving problems. When talking to parents about the behaviour of their children, always ask the parent “what has worked for you in solving this problem?” Identify and then focus on what works. By focusing on the positives, this gives the parent a sense of control rather than helplessness.
  • Empathy: It is important that a parent does not feel attacked. One way of softening a criticism is by balancing it with understanding. Validate a parents feelings; understand that they are probably worn out and that they are probably concerned about their child. Acknowledge the difficulty.

As a Parent Educator and Family Therapist, Susan Lieberman has spent almost 15 years helping kids, teens and adults move towards happier and healthy lifestyles. For more information, please visit www.familysupport.net for helpful information on this topic and many others!

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