Carole Farrar continues her series by looking at ways to make the most of personal contact with your parents.
In early years settings, there will be many occasions when one-to-one communication with parents is both desirable and necessary, not simply to give or receive information, but also to build up effective relationships. Skilled communication on a personal level can do much to build up trust and ensure that settings are well-regarded in their local community.
First impressions count! If parents are in the process of choosing a setting, it could be that the very first contact made is by telephone. It is therefore important to ensure that all staff are briefed on how to respond to telephone enquires – a cheery, helpful and business-like response will always give a good impression. It can be useful for staff, particularly those just entering the profession, to practise their ‘telephone manner’ and for colleagues to give each other feedback.
In some settings this can be quite tricky, as it may be difficult to get to a telephone quickly or easily. Where this is the case, a protocol could be established – for example an answerphone could be used to record messages. Staff can then plan to respond at a more convenient time. However, where it is possible to take calls, the person who answers should:
- answer promptly – within three rings if possible
- respond with a rehearsed message that makes clear the name of the setting, his/her name and job title as well as a friendly question such as ‘How can I help you?’
- be positive and use courteous language such as ‘Please’… ‘Thank you’… ‘You’re welcome’ …’Are you able to hold for a moment?
- avoid keeping a caller waiting – ask if a ringback would be preferable (and then remember to do it!)
- have a notepad and pen to hand and take accurate messages – date and time, name of caller, reason for call, action required and return phone number etc.
Taking a few moments to plan a call is a good idea, as it helps make time spent on the telephone as efficient and pleasant as possible. A caller should:
- have any information that might be needed close to hand
- know who s/he wants to talk to; parents’ names should be checked, as they may differ from their children’s
- check that they have chosen a convenient time to call – particularly if dialling a mobile or work number
- know what s/he wants to say or accomplish before making the call and then state this clearly.
These could include introductory tours of settings and visits to parents in their own homes. As with telephone conversations, it is important to make a positive initial impression. Parents need to feel confident that they are making the best possible choice for their child, so practitioners need to ensure that their verbal and non-verbal communications send out the right messages. A confident initial handshake and introduction, a friendly smile and genuine compliment will soon counter any initial awkwardness.
If a parent is visiting your setting for the first time, it is a good idea to devise a checklist of activities. This could be based on feedback from past parents, obtained through a post-admission survey. It might include questions such as:
- How welcome were you made to feel?
- Did you find out what you wanted to know?
- Who did you want to meet?
- What did you want to see?
- Was there anything else we could have done to make your first experience of our setting better?
Similarly, it is vital that home visits are well-planned, as these can require very sensitive handling. Practitioners need to communicate the purpose of the visit very clearly; ensuring parents understand that they are for the benefit of the child and not a ‘spying’ mission! Again, a relaxed, friendly manner and a few kind words will do much to build rapport. A feedback questionnaire can once more help settings to improve their practice. For example:
- How useful did you find the home visit?
- What were the best things about it?
- Was there anything you disliked?
- How could we make home visits better?
At key points throughout a child’s time in an early years setting, it will be necessary to hold a range of more formal one-to-one meetings to discuss development and progress. The focus of such meetings should be understood and clearly communicated by practitioners. Advance preparation, using an appropriate checklist or prompts, will help to ensure that limited time is well used. Messages should be clear, jargon-free and supported by evidence. Furniture should be arranged to ensure that both parties feel they have equal status and to reduce any physical barriers. Parents should always leave such meetings feeling positive and knowing what they can do to help their child make further progress.
Some areas for consideration:
- The style of communication in relation to your audience.
- Allow enough time.
- Ensure privacy when necessary.
- Find out about cultural differences.
There is no fail-safe formula for ensuring perfect communication, but awareness of some of the potential difficulties and attention to the techniques and strategies outlined above will make success more likely.