How to Communicate with Difficult Parents in Child Care

Communicate with Difficult Parents in Child Care Blog ImageBeing an effective child care provider means establishing a relationship with their child and the child's parents. Sometimes, it can be tougher to figure out how to communicate with parents than communicating with their children. That’s why strategies that establish best practices regarding communication with, sometimes difficult, parents are essential.

Some parents place their full trust in your program's ability to provide proper child care, respect your opinion and your expertise. Others aren't as cooperative, though they may have their children's best interests in mind. These parents may question your observations, programs and decisions. Often, these parents end up requiring a lot of time and communication. Unfortunately, not all of that communication will be effective and productive.

Challenging conversations inevitably crop up. Arming yourself with ways to steer heated conversations and complaints back to a productive dialogue only stands to strengthen your skills as a child care provider. This is a skill that you can pass on to your staff to ensure they are equipped to deal with the challenges of communicating with parents.

Here are some essential tips on how to effectively communicate with parents and make the most of every conversation.

Address your Feelings

When confronted with a difficult parent, it can be tough to take in what they are saying if you’re not aware of how you are feeling. As a result, your response may be less than ideal and hinders the strong, positive relationship you are trying to forge.

If you check-in with yourself throughout the workday, you are less likely to meet a parent’s concern with a stress-laden response. When you are in tune with your internal dialogue, you can apply useful ways to communicate with parents at daycare without falling prey to your stress or frustration.

Listen and Avoid the Defensive Approach

With a level-headed approach, you can actively take in what a parent is truly saying. Even if you disagree, try not to jump on the defense when met with a concern or criticism. A parent wants to be heard.

Do not interrupt them until they’ve said their piece, and try to understand where they are coming from. No matter the circumstances, there’s one thing you both have in common: caring for the child. With this common ground, you may be able to continue a challenging conversation more productively.

Use “I” Statements

Sometimes people can forget that even child care providers are human beings, not simply robotic professionals. Using “I” statements in a difficult conversation with a parent helps ground the issue and helps you both find a compromise. In practice, this looks like choosing:

“I feel as if this conversation isn’t productive.”

Rather than,

“You are making this conversation unproductive.”

A simple change in language can make a big difference and prevent the parent from turning defensive.

Emphasize that You’re on the Same Team

Along with “I” statements, consider a statement such as, I know that we both care about Lisa and that we are concerned about how she handles anger. What I try to do is calm her down in the following ways. What do you think of that?

A statement like that can take two opponents and remind them of their common goal. You’re on the same team, even if one team member forgets that fact.

Ask Questions

Like the statement above, ending an observation with a question puts the ball back into their court. Asking a question further indicates that you care about their opinions and thoughts. It also makes it clear that you need their contribution to solve the problem. That makes a parent feel needed and involved, which underscores the notion of being on the same team.


Parents have a heavy emotional investment in their child, as all child care providers know. What may be harder to see is their investment in you. Even when they don't show it, most parents value your good opinion and are easily hurt when they feel they don't have it. Any "negative" comment about their child is heard as a criticism of their parenting.

Your best bet is to empathize with the parents' dilemma and express loving concern for their child. Highlight ways that you know the parent is working on issues and commend their efforts before launching into any concerns.

Be Specific

Acknowledge that this isn't easy for you. Tell the parents that you are not being critical, but that you want them to know what you see. If the parents deny what you report and state that no one else sees it, continue to focus on what you have seen. Be ready to cite specific behaviors that illustrate your concerns about the child. Then, if questions arise, you can be specific and avoid vague generalities that can be misinterpreted more easily.

Stay Focused on the Issue at Hand

In navigating how to talk to parents about their child’s development, tact is critical. No matter how gentle you are, be prepared for parents to feel some anger. Try to remain empathetic and remind them that you share with them a common concern for their child. Express your appreciation and care for their child.

When parents are upset, it may be difficult for them to "hear" you the first time. This can happen even when the parent has brought a problem to your attention! Stay focused on what you have seen and what you have heard.

Respect their Choice

At the end of the day, one-hundred tips for communicating concerns with parents cannot prevent an unfavorable outcome. Respect their choice. If, in spite of all your efforts, they make a contrary decision, that is their right. Down the road, they will remember you cared enough to make a difficult recommendation.

Find Reciprocity

Even though parents deny it, usually they have heard about any serious problem again and again from a variety of sources. You may even notice that one parent seems more receptive and aware than the other.

It can be helpful to have that parent restate the observed behaviors in his or her own words so that the other parent realizes that you are not being critical of them or their child. You are sincerely interested in helping. The more you can highlight how much you value their child and the parents' efforts to do the best for their child, the more likely your point will be heard.


First, ask the parent if they have ideas on how to move forward. Is there a consensus between you two on an aspect of the issue? Are there things both of you could improve upon? Seeking compromise with a parent is easier when you ask them to find it first. Compromise is often the best route in these cases. The results generally favor the child, which is the most important thing.

Follow-up After a Difficult Conversation

Reach out to the parent in a timely manner following the conversation or incident. Following up shows you care and have not put the matter to rest. It emphasizes your commitment to their child and to the parent, leaves room for improving the relationship and creates a clear channel of communication.

Final Thoughts

Communication isn’t always easy, as child care providers know. However, it’s an essential skill that makes managing a child care program easier. Whether you’re communicating with staff, students or families, following the tips provided can help you avoid unproductive conversations that are reduced to arguments.

More importantly, it allows you to actively find solutions to problems through a compromise that promotes the welfare and safety of the children in your care. That’s the bottom line.

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