The key to engaging with & developing and sustaining effective relationships with parents is to respond constructively to their evolving needs. A successful way of approaching this task is through facilitating refinements in the skills and competences of the parents in order to enhance their relationships with their children.
A useful introductory theory for parents to consider is the Baumrind Theory of Parenting Styles, developed by Diana Baumrind during the 1970s. She conducted extensive studies of parent-child interactions in the home. Baumrind developed the theory that there were four main types of parenting styles and that the differences in parenting styles accounted for the way children functioned socially, emotionally and cognitively.
Four Dimensions, Four Styles
Baumrind felt that there were four dimensions of parent-child interactions: parental control, maturity demands, clarity of communication and nurturance. “Parental control” is related to such issues as enforcing rules. “Maturity demands” is the parental expectation that children perform up to their potential. “Clarity of communication” reflects the parents’ willingness to communicate with their children, solicit their opinions and use reasoning to obtain the desired behaviour. “Nurturance” is related to parental expressions of warmth and approval, and protection of children’s physical and emotional well-being. Using these four dimensions, Baumrind identified four parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive-indulgent and permissive-uninvolved.
The authoritative style is considered the “ideal” parenting style and seems to produce children with high levels of self-reliance and self-esteem, who are socially responsible, independent and achievement-oriented, according to Education.com. Authoritative parents set clear expectations and have high standards. They monitor their children’s behaviour, use discipline based on reasoning and encourage their children to make decisions and learn from their mistakes. They are also warm and nurturing, treating their children with kindness, respect and affection.
Although the word sounds similar, authoritarian parenting is different in many ways from authoritative parenting. The authoritarian parent tends to set rigid rules, demand obedience and use strategies such as the withdrawal of love or approval to force a child to conform. These parents are more likely to use physical punishment or verbal insults to elicit the desired behaviour. They lack the warmth of the authoritative parent and may seem aloof to their children. Children with authoritarian parents may be well-behaved, but they are also likely to be moody and anxious; they tend to be followers rather than leaders.
The permissive-indulgent parent is overflowing with parental warmth. This parent may be openly affectionate and loving but sets few or no limits, even when the child’s safety may be at risk. Permissive-indulgent parents make few demands for maturity or performance, and there are often no consequences for misbehaviour. Children of permissive parents often have problems with controlling their impulses; they may display immaturity and be reluctant to accept responsibility.
Permissive-uninvolved parenting, also called simply “uninvolved parenting,” is characterised by the same lack of limits or demands seen in the permissive-indulgent style. However, the uninvolved parent displays little or no parental warmth. At its extreme, the uninvolved style can be neglectful or involve outright rejection of the child. Children with uninvolved parents are likely to have low levels of functioning in many areas. They tend to do poorly in school and, particularly as they move into high school, are more likely to exhibit delinquent behaviour and to be depressed.
Child Qualities & Parenting Styles
- lively and happy disposition
- Self-confident about ability to master tasks
- well developed emotion regulation
- developed social skills
- less rigid about gender-typed traits (e.g. sensitivity in boys and independence in girls)
- anxious, withdrawn, and unhappy disposition
- poor reactions to frustration (girls are particularly likely to give up and boys become especially hostile)
- do well in school (studies may show authoritative parenting is comparable)
- not likely to engage in antisocial activities (e.g. drug and alcohol abuse, vandalism, gangs)
- poor emotional regulation (under regulated)
- Rebellious and defiant when desires are challenged.
- low persistence to challenging tasks
- antisocial behaviours
Another area for reflection and skill development for parents is to support them to listen in a way that their children will be encouraged to talk and to speak in a way that encourages their children to listen. The exploration and acquisition of Active Listening and Constructive Feedback skills for parents can make significant contributions to not only the parent/child relationship but also to the practitioner/parent interactions.
To listen actively, you should help the other person to speak, using attentive body language and encouraging words. Especially when they are uncertain, supporting them with nods, ‘yes’ and eyebrows raised in anticipation can be very effective.
Sometimes encouragement is best with silent attention, giving them space in which to find the words they need, quietly sitting through the pauses. If they are emotional, accept their emotional state without criticism and without saying ‘please don’t cry’ when we really mean ‘please don’t upset me’. If someone is moved to tears, one of the most powerful things you can do is to allow them to cry.
In attentive listening you pay obvious attention to the other person so they can see that you are interested in what they have to say.
The opposite of attentive listening is inattentive or casual listening, where you are not obviously paying attention to the person but you may (or may not) actually be listening carefully.
Rogers and Farson (1979) describe active listening as ‘an important way to bring about changes in people.’ They recommend three activities:
- Listen for total meaning: Listen both for content and also for the underlying emotions.
- Respond to feelings: Sometimes the real message is in the emotion rather than the surface content. In such cases, you should respond to the emotional message.
- Note all the cues: Not all communication is verbal, so watch for the non-verbal messages.
When you reflect what you hear back to the other person, you are demonstrating that you have heard what they have said. What you reflect should match the key aspects of what the other person is communicating.
You can reflect data and factual information. You can also reflect feelings. Feelings are more difficult to read but are more powerful in the bond that is created with the other person as this indicates empathy and implied concern.
Reflect back what you hear not by parroting back the same words but by paraphrasing, using your own words to rephrase what they have said. A good way of doing this is to summarise what they have said in fewer words.
When a person says something, even with careful understanding you may miss the point. It can help when reflecting and summarising to add testing questions, asking whether your summary is correct. For example:
So, I think what you are saying is … Is this right?
This gives them control and hence makes it easier for them to accept what you say.
As Rogers and Farson point out, ‘although it is most difficult to convince someone that you respect him by telling him so, you are much more likely to get this message across by really behaving that way…Listening does this most effectively’.
How to talk with parents in difficult situations
Sometimes teachers have to face angry parents and they can feel afraid to face the following situations:
- Angry or defensive parents.
- Parents complaining or demanding teachers.
- Parents who question teachers’ competence.
When parents are acting with their protective instinct, their emotions flare, and teachers could find themselves apologizing, and explaining away the decisions and methods. Or worse, they could confront the discussion in defensive way and start a discussion that can create in a bad parent-teacher relationship.
How can we do it?
- Be friendly; don’t be overly serious with parents. Say hello, smile and maintain a friendly attitude.
- Inform; the purpose is to let them know about the behaviour, share your knowledge with them in a way that is helpful, be confident.
- Stick to the facts; tell them precisely what happened.
- Watch your tone; this is a common mistake made by teachers who are affected by the situation and respond with “What are you going to do?” to the parents.
- Shoot straight, communicate with the truth, it is the most helpful and influential language you can use with parents.
- Explain how you are handling it, and ask for their collaboration.
- Talk to them with confidence.
Objective: Improving Parent/Child Interactions
Enable parents to reflect on their parenting style and influences and then to devise suggestions on application of different parenting styles and active listening skills to support the parent-child relationship.
- Group to reflect on parental influences and identify influences on parenting style.
- Introduce the different styles of parenting to the group. Leave them to identify their own styles with the list of parenting styles.
- Group to identify and role play active listening skills.
- Create a school climate and structures that support family involvement.
- Provide families with a list of required mastery skills for each subject taught at your grade level.
- Invite families to share hopes for and concerns about children and then work together to set student goals.
- Initiate a classroom volunteer program.
- Create a classroom website and include a parent page.
- Invite parents to present talks and/or demonstrations about their specialised knowledge or skills.
Material: Resources for recording material generated. A room in the school-facility.
The case that we present is an example of a new build school in an area of high deprivation with a large number of vulnerable children and families in extremely challenging circumstances. Offering 43 full-time nursery places, they are unique due to this fact. The school is working in the field of Emotional Literacy. The project addresses the needs of the community through child and family support services. The services are available locally and linked to pre-school education. Through Family Centre partnership with the primary school, families experience high quality of services that respond to their needs. To offer the best service, the school provides 11 Primary classes, two at reception, a Nurture Class Teacher and Family Support Teacher, a Breakfast Club, and a number of visiting teachers. There are bubble tubes, projectors, mirrors, cushions, special lighting, glowing floor mats, aromatherapy oils and fibre optics. In addition there are relaxation CDs, rain makers and circle time props to be used. Across the school, a number of activities are aimed at engaging pupils and their holistic/social-emotional development. Initiatives include a quiet room with soft lighting, relaxing music and soft furnishings where children can get some privacy; a drop-in counselling service that offers creative and play therapy to children; a Feelings Book in which children note down their feelings which get discussed (anonymously) at assemblies; a Calm Down period daily after lunch where soft relaxing music, chosen by pupils themselves, gets played throughout the school.
The school has many links with parents. The Family Support, Teacher works closely with the parents, arranging social events, workshops with different topics and courses for them. Directly involving parents in ongoing school projects has created a better environment among parents and school teachers.
The approach has been used with a small group of parents who had been categorised by Social Services as ‘difficult to engage with’. They met with a facilitator on a weekly basis for a period of 5 weeks. Anecdotal evidence suggested that all parents felt there was a degree of improvement in their relationships with their children. Practitioners also reported an improvement in relationships with parents.
The number of issues with parents has been reduced by more than half. Teachers who had face-to-face interviews with parents found that any issued were able to be dealt with and reduced by half. By building confidence in the institution, parents feel happier and have a more trusting relationship with the teachers.
- What kind of problem does the institution have in this case study?
- How do they use resources available to improve relationships with parents?
- Who are to be held responsible for achieving the goal?
- How could you embed this system in your school?
- Who has to be involved in the process?
- Is the management in your school willing to do this work?
2nd Case of Study
The teacher said:
“I was a teacher for 12 years and recently became an administrator. All that I have done in my new job is deal with angry parents. I call to tell them that their precious angel did something and the first response is, ‘How do you know it was him?’ Today, it was the bus driver’s fault that a child brought a dangerous weapon on the school bus. Really? Yesterday, it was a teacher’s fault that a student stole something from an empty classroom.”
- How should the teacher behave with the parents?
- What kind of tips would you give to the teacher?
- What’s the best option to manage the situation?
- How do you think that parents are going to behave?
- Could you make a plan to start the conversation with parents?