I recently read Jennifer Weiner’s article, “Hello Mother, Hello Daughter: Texts of Misery from Camp”. In this article, she discusses the notion that “you are only as happy as your least happy child”. Any parent knows this is true. The focus of her article was on getting “bad news” from her daughter, but there can be another source of bad news during the summer which is from the camp itself. Parents often dread seeing the camp number or during the school year the school number on their phone. However, we who work at camps and at schools can ease this pain. Here are 5 helpful tips for better communication with parents so that information is transmitted in the best way possible.
1. Partner with parents – Although one doesn’t want to go to a parent for every little bump in the road, it is important to keep parents informed. Parents get upset when the whole summer passes and there hasn’t been any contact, but then find out at the end of the summer that there have been difficulties. Parents want to partner with the camp and, by failing to let them know what is going on, we are not allowing them to work collaboratively with us.
2. Partner with kids – Parents want to know that you tried something before saying this isn’t working. Maybe giving a child a copy of the schedule, sitting on the end of the bench if the lunch room is noisy, or a simple behavior plan might work and then the youngster will be successful. Even if you think in your heart this camp may not be best suited for this youngster, it is best to try different less invasive strategies than saying this is not working without trying anything. If the more intensive work doesn’t work, this is information that can be shared with the parent.
3. Focus on behavior not personality – If there are behavior challenges such as running away from the group, using hands and feet inappropriately, or having difficulty following directions- frame these challenges as behaviors as opposed to personality traits. No parent wants to hear that their child is “spoiled”, “disrespectful”, or “untrustworthy” in their entirety.
4. Start with something positive – Parents can be like mother tigers with their cubs and it is easy for them to get defensive. By starting off with a positive, the camper’s parents will be more open to hear what is being said. Remember, it takes seven positives to undo one negative. Also, unless it is an emergency, start with “this is not an emergency…”
5. Help parents see that we are all on the same side – By working collaboratively with parents we ensure the best results. Always stress that you and the parents are part of a problem-solving team. It is important to make clear that the purpose of the feedback is to help you work more effectively with the camper and that it is not intended to be a complaint about their child. Also, even if the camp is not the right fit, try to have parents understand that you are not sharing this information to make your life easier, but rather that it is the right decision for the child.
Enjoy the rest of the summer- Caren :)