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Partners with Parents in Discipline
Authors: Rajeswari Natrajan with Judith A. Myers-Walls and Dee Love

Do you want to be more comfortable when talking to parents about discipline? Do you feel like parents are “undoing” what you are trying to do with their child? Do the parents feel that you are “undoing” their work? Have you ever wished that you and parents could work as a team to help the child learn self-control?

Partnerships for discipline

Often rules and discipline methods in childcare settings are not the same as what parents use at home. Although you cannot expect parents to have the same style that you have, it is good if you are aware of each other’s discipline methods.

Having different beliefs about discipline at home and at childcare might make a child’s behavior problem worse. It also can create tension between you and the parent. There are some things you can do, though. It helps if you remember that parents are experts on their children. Involve them in setting discipline goals for your childcare setting. This will help you work together to decide how to handle discipline better. It will also build a positive team spirit between you and the parents. Most parents who use childcare want to have opportunities to be active players in their child’s care and discipline.

Partnerships are especially important when…

• A family is new to your program.
• You are struggling to find ways to manage a child’s behavior.
• A family tells you that they are having difficulty with their child’s behavior.
• A child stops responding to discipline methods that worked before.
• You notice a child is beginning to act out in new ways.
• You feel that a parent does not support the rules of your childcare setting.
• You feel stressed, tense, or angry before talking to a parent about a child’s behavior.
• You feel that a parent is teaching his/her child to do things that make life difficult in the childcare setting.
• You feel that a parent does not respect you and the work you do with his/her child.
• You feel that a parent has different goals for his/her child than you do.

Tips for building partnerships

Define the problem 
It is important that you are clear about the problem at hand and have thought about choices. This will help you to be calm about it and less defensive while presenting the problem to the parents. Before you approach the parents, define for yourself exactly what is happening. For example: What are the specific problem behaviors? How often do they occur? What do you do and how does the child respond? What do you want to do?

Identify the positives 
When you talk with the parents, try to use positive words. Parents do not like to hear negative things about their child. Rephrase what you want to say to make it positive. For example, instead of saying, “Jen is always getting into things,” you could say, “Jen is curious and likes to explore.” Then you could go on to say, “That is great, but it causes problems when…” Parents also like to know when they are doing the right thing. So, do not tell them only what is going wrong. Point out when they are handling their children well. For example, you might observe a parent giving his child choices instead of demanding one behavior. You could tell the parent that you like the way he is handling the situation. You could point out that the approach can help avoid a power struggle.

Parents often have doubts about whether they are good parents, especially when they are not able to manage their child. They may feel that you are much better, because you are a professional. Don’t compare yourself with them. Admit when you have problems with your own children. Point out ways that they are good parents, and assure them that all parents have doubts.

Show that you care 
Parents are under a lot of stress, just as you are. It is important to remember that parents may have tried different methods to discipline their child. They are looking for support in their parenting just as you look for better methods in childcare. Say supportive words like “This must be hard on you;” “You must be finding it very difficult.” When you notice them handling things well, try to encourage them. For example, you could say, “You handled that tantrum really well,” and “You have a nice way of dealing with her.”

Respect parents 
Treat parents as experts on their child. They know their children better than anyone else. Ask them for assistance in solving problems together. Be open to their suggestions. Try not to be defensive. Explain the problem from your perspective. Ask for their ideas.

   “Maria is curious and likes to explore, but when she explores in my kitchen she opens drawers.
    Then I feel nervous, because there are so many dangerous things there. I would like to figure
    out a way to let her explore without letting her in my kitchen drawers. How would you handle this
    at home?”

Respect the parent’s authority over her child. For example, if the child asks you in front of her parent whether she needs to wear her jacket home, tell her to ask her parent’s permission.

Work with parents 
Do not expect parents to solve your problems. But ask them for suggestions sometimes. Ask what discipline methods they use at home. Plan together with the parents. Decide what will work best for the childcare setting.

   “Sherry loves her nap, but when naptime is over she does not wake up easily. I feel worried,
   because I don’t know if she is getting enough sleep. I would like to make sure she is getting
   enough sleep, but I can’t change my whole schedule. What kind of nap does she take at home?
   How does she wake up?  What time does she go to bed at night? Do you have any suggestions
   for me?”

Keep parents informed 
Parents like to know what is going on and to be involved in their child’s discipline. They want to know when their child is not adjusting well in the childcare center and when the child is having problems. Make sure you find some time to talk with them. When they drop off or pick up their child might be best. Share your concerns with them. If you need more time, ask if you could meet with them at a better time. Then you could discuss and choose strategies to care for the child better. Before trying a new approach, tell the parents and get their permission.

   Tommy is an active boy who loves to play. But sometimes he would rather play than eat at
   lunchtime.  Then I feel frustrated. I tell him at least 10 times a meal to eat his lunch, and he still
   does not eat. I would like to stop nagging and make eating his responsibility. I plan to give him
   20 minutes to eat and then take away his plate. He won’t get anything else to eat until snack
   time. I will watch to see if this helps him learn to eat his lunch. Is this all right with you?

Parents want to learn 
Most parents are eager to learn better ways of handling their children. Many parents are good observers. When you get a chance, show parents positive ways of guiding their child.

   A child might be acting out during pick-up time. If the parent is watching, you could get down to
   the child’s level. You could ask if he is upset about leaving the childcare. Let him know that he
   can come back tomorrow and continue his play. Assure him that you will save the toys for him.
   Give him a choice of either walking back to the car with his parent or being carried back to the

When a child is misbehaving, it is hard for a parent to take the perspective of the child. Parents are stressed. So, you could speak for the child.

   You see a child start to misbehave when the parent is speaking to you. Then you see the parent
   getting upset. You could point out to the parent that the child might be trying to get her attention.
   The child has not seen the parent the whole day. Let the parent know that it is all right to pay
   attention to the child first and then talk to you afterward.

   Guiding children together

For more information, contact Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE at

Please feel free to link to, print off, redistribute, or reprint
  any of these materials as long as the original credits remain intact.

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