Running a Child-Care Business? How to Build a Great Relationship With Parents.

The relationships you develop with the parents of the children in your care are unlike any other customer relationship.

In Start Your Own Child-Care Service, the Staff of Entrepreneur Media Inc. and writer Jacquelyn Lynn explain how you can start a child-care service, whether you want to start a small homebased operation or a large commercial center. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer advice on developing positive relationships with your parental customers.

Children, caregivers, parents, and administrators can all benefit from positive relationships between the parents and child-care providers. The foundation of such relationships is a frequent exchange of information about the child's strengths, progress, and needed changes.

Though you may feel that the time involved in writing notes, making phone calls to parents, arranging parent/caregiver conferences, and allowing parents to visit the center takes away from the time you spend doing your work, it actually doesn't. These efforts can generate tremendous rewards.

Most parents want to be involved in child-care activities, and as a provider, it's up to you to offer ways to make it easy for them to do so. At your initial meeting with parents, outline your program and emphasize the importance of parental involvement. You should communicate regularly with the parents through informal and formal written notices, and try to talk with each parent at least once a week. If a discipline problem develops, involve the parents early to prevent a minor problem from becoming a major issue.

Plan family activities such as picnics and dinners. Invite parents to stop by the center for lunch or to join their children for various special events you may hold. Be sure the parents know they are welcome to come by anytime—whether or not something special is happening.

You may spend more waking hours with the children in your care than their parents do, and parents will appreciate knowing what their children are doing during that time. Consider keeping a notebook on each child. It could include a daily log of the child's activities, including how many bowel movements and a description of the feces, how many wet diapers, what and how much food he or she consumed, his or her nap schedule, and anything else that pertains to the child. If you have any questions for the parent, note them in the log. You may also want to produce a newsletter telling parents about activities at the center and discussing other important issues.

If you have a problem

Problems and disagreements with parents and children are bound to occur every so often. Address them as soon as possible; don't let them fester and grow into major issues.

Bring the situation to the parent's attention when neither of you is tired—and when you both have time for a discussion. If that time isn't available during your normal contacts when the child is being dropped off or picked up, set an appointment. Talk in a polite, positive manner, without casting blame. Ask for the parent's help or advice. For example, if a child seems to be unusually tired, don't say something like, "You need to put her to bed earlier." Instead, try an approach like, "Jennifer seems to be more tired than normal lately. Is she having trouble sleeping?"

Let the parents know you're their ally, not their adversary. At the same time, make it clear that certain situations cannot be tolerated. For example, if you have a child who hits and/or bites, you'll quickly find that other parents don't want to leave their kids in a place where they might be hit or bitten. For the sake of your business, as well as for the sake of the child, work closely with the parents to correct bad behavior. Always keep in mind that parents will find it easier to accept discussions on problems and your suggestions for improvement if they know you see their child's good points, too. As you work through the negatives, remember to comment sincerely on helpful things the parents are doing for their child.

When a parent comes to you with a problem or complaint, listen carefully—not just to the words but to what isn't being said. Though you might feel like you're under attack or being unfairly criticized, try not to react defensively or let hurt or anger get the best of you. Hear the parent out, and remember that he or she is your customer and has a right to express his or her feelings and opinions about the services you provide. In fact, the complaint may well provide you with input you can use to improve your operation.

Once a parent has presented an issue and finished talking, repeat what you think you heard. Say something like, "I want to make sure I understand your concerns. What you're saying is ..." and then summarize what was said and ask for a confirmation that your interpretation is accurate. If it's not, let the parent speak again, and then go through the clarification process one more time to be sure you understand.

After you're sure you're both talking about the same thing, share your thoughts and feelings about the problem. Ask the parent for input and suggestions. Together, you should be able to come up with several possible solutions and then decide which approach to take to remedy the situation.

When parents are chronically late

One of the most frustrating aspects of being a child-care professional is parents who are late picking up their children. Before you accept a family, make sure they understand your hours of operation and that their work schedules are compatible with yours.

It's possible some parents don't realize they're causing a problem when they are late, especially if you run a family (homebased) center or a commercial center with extended or nontraditional hours.

For parents who are occasionally late, simply follow your policy guidelines regarding fees. After all, there will always be circumstances that will periodically cause delays.

When parents are chronically late, explain how their actions are affecting you, your employees, your family, and/or the other children in your care. You might say something like, "When you're late, it keeps me from getting home to my own family." Or "Because you were late, I was late to an important meeting." Or, if you are open extended hours, try, "We are required by law to have no more than a certain number of children for each caregiver on duty. When you're late, we are forced to violate that ratio. It means the children aren't getting adequate care, and it also puts our license in jeopardy." Then ask how the two of you can work together to solve the problem.

You might also point out how the parents' behavior affects their child. Children usually find it stressful when their routine is changed. They are also likely to react negatively to being the only child left at the center and will undoubtedly pick up on any stress the caregiver is feeling due to the situation. Also, children worry when their parents are late. Parents may not realize the impact of their tardiness on everyone involved, and they may make more of an effort to be on time if you explain it to them.

The Staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc.

Entrepreneur Staff

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