Family matters

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By Sue Cowleyexperienced classroom teacher and behaviour expert.

Sue Cowley focuses on how to work positively and effectively with parents to help deal with their children’s behavioural issues

There are many reasons why parents might struggle to control their children’s behaviour. Some have it tough – single parents, families in the middle of a breakdown, children with special needs, and those living in an area of poverty, deprivation or crime. Even parents with a relatively ‘easy’ home situation are often under stress. When you spend long hours at work, it is hard to find quality time to spend with your family.

Family matters

Speaking to parents about their child’s behaviour can be tricky

Managing behaviour in the home can be more difficult than it is in an early years setting. That emotional connection with your own children makes it hard to be firm with sanctions. The stresses and strains of daily life mean that consistency is often difficult. When you are in the middle of making the dinner, and the children start to play up, it is far easier to put them in front of the television than to deal with the problem.

As professionals working with children on a daily basis, we come to understand what works (routine, structure, clear expectations, a positive approach) and what doesn’t work (shouting, lack of consistency, negative attitudes). With all this knowledge, it is great if we can find ways to pass these strategies on to parents.

Speaking to parents about their child’s behaviour can be tricky. Even with sensitive handling, some will feel that they are being criticised for the way they bring up their children. This is especially so where parents are experiencing significant difficulties; they may feel completely ‘at sea’ because of the huge nature of their problems.

Working with parents

Where there is a strong link between the setting and the home, this can be very effective in promoting positive behaviour. There are various ways in which you might do this:

  1. Have a range of different methods for making contact with the home, such as a quick chat, daily reports, newsletters and hold various events at which parents and practitioners can get together and get to know each other.
  2. Offer clear advice on ways that parents can back up what happens in the setting. For example, you might send home information about your policy on behaviour, or ask parents to sign a ‘behaviour contract’.
  3. Let parents know about the various support services that are available to them, for example, by keeping a stock of leaflets freely available or displaying a list of good internet links.
  4. Invest in a set of parenting books and create a system whereby parents can borrow these to read at home. Alternatively, get some information from your local library on the different parenting titles that are available, and display them in a list.
  5. Consider setting up some informal ‘parenting advice’ sessions. These could include a short talk from practitioners on effective strategies, followed by a discussion among parents about any concerns, tips, suggestions and so on.
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