Why have these conversations?
For early childhood educators this is a very difficult task met with feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. This is expected, it isn't comfortable to be the initiator of this topic. Monitoring a child's development is one of our roles as an early childhood educator and sharing concerns related to possible delays is a responsibility we have as advocates for young children. Early educators and child care providers have a foundational knowledge of child development and parents are resources for strategies that may be helpful in addressing concerns. Therefore, communication between parents and educators can lead to interventions that address the needs of the child and should take place as soon as possible after a concern is identified.
What concerns have parents reported about the process?
One concern I have heard from parents is that they feel "blindsided". Parents report that the provider or educator had not discussed any concerns until
Do: Use a tracking tool such as a developmental checklist or screening tool with all children in your program. Parents in your program should be informed of the use of and purpose of a tracking tool. A tracking tool provides a framework for ongoing parent communication which promotes trust. The tracking tool will provide you with the objective documentation and data needed to identify concerns. You can use this documentation to guide your discussion and provide a visual for the parent.
Scheduling the Meeting
Do: Schedule a meeting as soon as possible. If possible, plan the meeting at a time both parents can be in attendance. Provide a private setting for the meeting. Inform parents of the topic of the meeting so that they can prepare.
Don't: Have discussions about concerns during pick up and drop off time. This compromises the privacy of the family and doesn't allow enough time for discussion. Don't talk about the concerns in front of the child. Don't avoid the discussion for a long period of time because you want to wait until conferences to share the information.
Preparing for the meeting
Do: Prepare, prepare, prepare. Think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. Focus on the need to "rule out" possible concerns. Be honest. Give parents honest information, but use kind words. Prepare data, observations and checklists ahead of time. Prepare options for a plan. If you feel a referral is the best option, have the referral resources ready. Knowing a parent might not be ready for a referral, have some strategies prepared. You can generate a list of strategies ahead of time, adding parent suggestions to this list at the meeting. Some providers find it helpful to role play the meeting and script some conversation starters.
Don't: Go to the meeting unprepared.
Do: Start the discussion with strengths.
Script: Anna's checklist indicates that she exceeds age appropriate skills in the area of motor skills. She enjoys art projects and is already demonstrating a mature grasp on the pencil. She works hard at cutting and is beginning to cut out more complex shapes.
Lead into the discussion of concerns by encouraging parents to share observations, questions, or concerns. This will provide you with a clear understanding of whether they have concerns and how their concerns compare to yours.
Script: What types of activities does Anna like to do at home? What do you notice is more difficult for her?
Use the tracking tool as a visual. The tracking tool gives parents something to think about without putting a label on it, it gets the conversation started and the information is objective. Keep the focus on the child and how the possible delay is impacting the child. Be supportive. Practice active listening techniques. Be calm but concerned.
Script: Based on a review of the developmental checklists and classroom observations, I am concerned about Anna's ability to.......
Be specific about the skills. Examples might include, communicate with peers, follow directions, attend to group activities, interact with peers without conflict, complete classroom routines in a timely manner
Explain how her skills compare to her peers and how the difficulties are impacting her functioning.
Script: On the checklist, her understanding of language concepts is at a 24 month level. She is demonstrating a delay in this area compared to other 4 year old children. These concepts are important for following directions. Because she doesn't understand the concepts, she needs demonstrations and to have the directions repeated to her, one step at a time. If the task involves a lot of verbal directions, she will often stop paying attention or leave the task.
Don't: Use jargon, acronyms and labels. Your role is not to diagnose or label, this should only be done after a comprehensive evaluation. Focus on observable behaviors, impact on functioning, not on labels. Avoid scaring a parent, remember, "calm but concerned". This can be difficult, but be sure not to dismiss a parent's
Scripts to avoid (I know they are obvious!)
I think Anna is
I think Anna is following further and further behind and might not catch up to her peers.
I know you are concerned that she doesn't know her alphabet but I am not worried about that, her speech development is much more concerning.
I can't understand anything Anna is saying, I have to guess what she wants. I don't call on her at circle time because I am afraid I won't understand her.
The conclusion of the meeting
Do: Be open to trying the parent's suggestions.
Script: It sounds like at home, you encourage Anna to breathe deeply when she is frustrated, I will encourage her to do the same at school.
Reassure parents that you will support them. Explain the role and importance of early identification and intervention.
Script: I think it would be beneficial to have a more formal observation and evaluation completed so that we can rule out any possible delay. An evaluation can also lead to appropriate strategies that will help Anna feel more successful and decrease her frustration. She is learning in a different way and strategies I use for many children are not meeting her needs. I want to make sure I am providing the appropriate support she needs and could use further guidance.
Script for strategies: We have decided to try the following strategies, ....
Script for referral: Thank you for your time today. Talking to Anna's pediatrician about these concerns is a good idea. Here is a copy of the observations and checklists we discussed to share with the pediatrician. Let's plan to meet again in 4 weeks to discuss the results of your visit to the doctor.
I hope you found some of these suggestions useful. As difficult as these conversations can be, you are advocating for the child by taking steps to make sure his or her needs are being met. I am interested in hearing more about your experience as either a parent or an early educator or