When you’re running a childcare center, connecting with parents may be tough to prioritize, especially when your school community includes families facing considerable challenges of their own: single parents, English language learners, parents of children with special needs, and others who may feel intimidated by the educational system. Here are some groups early childhood educators may find it especially difficult to engage with and who are essential in connecting with!

English Language Learners

It goes without saying that language barriers create communication roadblocks. Attempts to reach parents with limited or no English proficiency go unanswered; letters sent home go unread.

Cultural differences — common when someone’s first language isn’t English — can make matters more complicated. English language learners in your community may have a different view of education, seeing teachers as authority figures who shouldn’t be questioned. These parents may be reluctant to voice concerns or provide feedback.

Single Parents

Single parents typically have a lot on their plates and frequently lack the support they need. They’re often juggling busy work schedules while raising children. Some even have additional responsibilities, such as caring for elderly relatives or taking classes to further their job prospects. If the parent who is not in the home is in the picture, it’s important to make sure you’re on the same page about who will be responsible for signing children in and out each day. If both parents are involved with the children, keep the lines of communication open with them, as much as it’s practical and possible to do so, especially if the parents don’t communicate well with each other.

Families with Multiple Children in Your Center

Dynamics can become chaotic when families have multiple children enrolled at your center. Suppose a family has two elementary-aged children who need after-school care. If they’re involved in other outside activities, they may have different schedules and only need care a few afternoons a week. Without good communication, transportation arrangements and related matters can be confusing.

Families Who Feel Alienated by the Education System

Parents with little in the way of formal education are likely to feel alienated by the educational system. They may not have the confidence or ability to initiate conversations with you. If they struggled in school themselves, they may feel they’re unqualified to work on academic skills with their children at home.

While this isn’t always the case, those with lower levels of education tend to have lower incomes, too. Even when they want to support their children’s education, these parents can be difficult to reach because they’re working long hours, sometimes at multiple jobs, to make ends meet.

Relatives, Friends, and Neighbors

While caring for the children of people you know well can make communication with their parents smoother, it also creates the potential for tension. Relationships with these families can become strained when children form close attachments to their caregivers, sometimes causing parents to question their own child-rearing abilities.

When your clients are well-acquainted with you, there may be a greater need to set boundaries, as these families may think it’s all right to bend the rules a bit. For instance, a parent who is also a friend of yours may think she doesn’t need to tell you when she’s running late to pick up her child from school. Regardless of your relationship to the family, open communication is always vital.

Families of Children with Special Needs

Families of children with special needs face challenges few others can comprehend. Early childhood is often the time when learning difficulties and developmental delays may begin to surface. Talking to parents about these issues can be hard, especially if they’re in denial that there is a problem. Even if they know something is wrong, they may have trouble accepting what’s happening and feel ill-equipped to seek solutions.

Sometimes parents have children enrolled in your school, in addition to a special-needs child not in your care, who may have health or developmental challenges. Between doctor visits and therapy appointments, these parents can be difficult to track down, too. Already feeling overwhelmed, they may be hesitant to dialogue about issues involving their other children.

Having problems connecting with parents doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. Understanding the challenges you may face in this area can help you be prepared, taking extra steps to reach out and make yourself available.