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Dealing with upset and angry parents in EYFS settings

7 conflict resolution strategies to avoid complaints
12 min of reading
06 October 2022
Supporting stressed, anxious and upset parents in nursery settings

Parents can become upset, angry or distressed when they feel they aren’t included in their child’s education, listened to or are frustrated with lack of communication. Managing parent complaints and frustrations can be challenging for nursery staff. In this article, we get expert advice from Tamara Bennett on why a good relationship is necessary for success, the top 5 causes of conflicts and 7 conflict resolution strategies that will avoid complaints.

What you will find in this article:

    Dealing with upset EYFS parents: Meet the expert, Tamara Bennett

    Tamara Bennett has been the Headteacher of Abercromby Nursery for 6 years and has worked in the Early Years field for 14 years. She is passionate about effective parental engagement in EYFS. Based in the heart of Liverpool and catering for a vast diversity of languages, backgrounds and development levels, Abercromby Nursery has been awarded the School of Sanctuary Award several years on the run. The award celebrates the outstanding provision which supports parents from all backgrounds: refugees, domestic violence backgrounds, and parents with high anxiety levels.

    Benefits of building a good parent-nursery relationship

    The universal childcare offer is 15 hours per week, meaning children may spend most of their week with their parents. Parents are hugely influential in a child’s education and progression; it is important to work as a partnership to achieve the highest outcomes for the child.

    Many children that enter your nursery will have limited verbal communication skills. Your window into the child’s needs is via the parent, relying on a positive partnership between home and nursery.

    Understanding the family helps to understand the child, especially when supporting families of a contrasting culture. A strong partnership between home and nursery supports good developmental outcomes

    5 leading causes of complaints from parents in the nursery

    Ineffective communication from nursery staff

    Parents like to be kept up to date with their child’s day, their progress, and any critical pieces of information from the nursery. Several influencing factors can make parents feel they are not included in their child’s learning, creating distress and friction.

    Parents may miss messages about important events or changes to timetables due to outdated communication software. Limited nursery management software can reduce parental engagement, exclude participation due to language barriers, and deliver messages in a broadcasting fashion rather than encourage two-way interaction. Ensure that your current method for communication is easing your pain points- not creating them!

    A lack of trust between parents and the nursery

    Nursery staff are often the first professionals parents have to trust to care for their child outside of the family network. There can be a wariness of the qualifications and competence of staff to care for their child in the same way they do. A lack of trust from parents can stem from a previous negative experience; it is beneficial to audit your settling-in process to gather as much information as possible.

    Upset parents or a cry for help?

    Tamara reminds us that there is always a reason for the behaviour; it may well be a cry for help. Some families have a complex home life that can spill into their interactions with staff at the nursery.

    Allowing parents to off-load whilst offering advice is useful to assist those in crisis. You must be aware of boundaries and where your advice limits are, using a multi-agency approach for further support if they need it.

    Parental separation anxiety in EYFS settings

    “There has been a noticeable increase in parental separation anxiety post-pandemic,” Tamara Bennett explains. Many parents are struggling to leave their child for extended periods. Parental anxiety and worry can contribute to parental frustration with their childcare provider if they feel they are not sufficiently updated, consulted, and involved in their child’s learning.

    Conflict of views and expectations between parents and nurseries

    65% of the families who attend Abercromby Nursery are English Additional Language, with 50% favouring Arabic as their first language. There are vast cultural differences that can cause conflict if not addressed early on. The ideals behind messy play, water play, and outdoor exploration can confuse parents from contrasting cultures.

    “Some families who originate from very hot countries can find the idea of continuing to play outdoors in the rain unusual”, Tamara Bennett explains, “We have some families who want their child to remain pristine. We highlight perceived ‘mess’ as opportunities for learning with our t-shirt in the reception.

    Without getting to know your families well and sharing the science and logic behind the nursery’s methods, there can be a potential conflict between parents and nursery staff members.

    7 conflict resolution strategies to calm distressed parents in childcare

    Follow your EYFS policies and procedures

    Your nursery will follow statutory compliance with EYFS policies and procedures and will include a complaints policy. Other documents may be created to give staff guidance and help when supporting angry or challenging parents. Tamara encourages the review and creation of policies that will help to give your staff confidence and consistency when managing distressed parents or complaints.

    You may have a policy to support upset parents, but it cannot be a one size fits all method; contextual information must be considered.

    Aim to defuse and don’t take it personally

    First and foremost, the initial aim when managing upset or distressed parents is to defuse the situation“, Tamara explains, “The parent will not be able to reason if they are in a heightened emotional state.

    Your staff must be encouraged not to take an upset parent’s reaction personally and respond professionally and calmly.

    It can be helpful to acknowledge the feelings without admitting any wrongdoings (especially before finding out all information necessary). Try using language that validates the parent’s feelings and allows them to vent their frustrations (remaining vigilant of staff safety at all times).

    Approach upset parents with curiosity

    It can take your staff by surprise when parents are reactive; teach your team to approach challenging situations with curiosity. Recognising there is always a reason for the behaviour, your staff can begin to effectively implement reflective practice techniques to unpick the cause of the upset. Tamara implements a coaching system in her nursery, where staff can reflect with an experienced colleague and create conflict resolution strategies.

    Be safeguarding aware

    There should be a balance between privacy and a quiet space for discussion with the parent whilst remaining safeguarding aware. Having an additional adult within earshot of the conversation can be useful for protecting all involved. Tamara suggests discussing with staff the need for quietly clearing away the paint pots from the day’s activities at the back of the room whilst a discussion is going on. This can give your staff additional confidence and support if needed.

    Remain calm, confident, and professional

    Your staff must remain calm and professional when faced with a challenging situation. Using scenarios during a staff meeting can help to practice when to bring in another colleague for additional support. Sometimes, parents need to speak to the manager or deputy manager about complaints; this can be seen as a new opportunity to defuse the situation.

    Revisit and check-in with distressed parents

    If a parent has raised a concern, it is important that you check in with your staff and the family to ensure they are happy with how the concern has been resolved.

    EYFS complaints procedure

    Tamara recognises that you can’t always win, sometimes, you help as much as possible and follow all the correct steps, and the parent may still want to complain. Confidence in your team and procedures can highlight that this may be a sign of external pressures, and this complaint may be the controllable outlet for the parent. If your setting is maintained as Abercromby Nursery is, the governors will implement the complaints policy.

    5 ways to maintain healthy parent-nursery relationships

    1. Instil a solid key person system

    Although a statutory requirement, some childcare locations can pay lip service to allocate each child a key person. Tamara celebrates the importance of developing meaningful relationships with the families.

    Each child has a special person; they complete all the assessments, upload to their online journal and communicate with the families. It helps the children and the parents to feel secure and looked after.

    2. Tailor communication to your setting

    Tamara’s setting is diverse culturally and in levels of deprivation. She utilises her staff’s skills to translate many communications into Arabic to support a large percentage of her parents. Consider the demographic of parents in your setting and consider language barriers, reading barriers, and the length of communication to build the most effective engagement possible.

    3. Provide regular updates via reliable nursery software

    Encourage your team members to use your online nursery platform to share room learning blogs, golden moments, images and videos of their achievements, as well as information and notices. Use an effective software system where your staff’s workload is reduced whilst high-quality communication is a priority.

    4. Explore home visits with nursery staff

    Now that visits are becoming the norm again, decide as a team how home visits should be organised to get the most from this privileged position to be invited into a family home.

    5. Offer practical support to parents

    Think about organising parent support workshops, coffee mornings, stay and play sessions, and toddler and baby groups for your families at a price that is affordable and reasonable to parents. This will encourage parents to develop their own social network amongst the parents.

    Your aim is to support children and their families to the highest standard. Sometimes, parents can become stressed or upset, and your staff will manage these reactions. Managing these interactions calmly and respectfully can model to parents how any future concerns should be handled throughout their educational career.

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