It started off almost as a throw away comment, made its way into a conference presentation, and now seems to have become a thing. So its definitely going in my book under “things not to say to parents”!
What we hear depends so much on where we are at that moment (emotionally and geographically), why we’re there, past experience, how distracted we are – before we even start on tone of voice, inflection or status of the person speaking. I thought I’d ask friends and family what they assumed if they heard that request. A quick straw poll came up wth the following responses and variations on the themes:
- Something must be very wrong
- Oh God, what I have I done now?
- It’s almost certainly not going to be quick!
- This is going to be bad news
- No, I absolutely don’t have time
I have every confidence that the person making the statement originally had the very best intentions, perhaps wanted to appear casual, to put someone at their ease even. That might work for some people (or there again, judging by the responses above, it might not).
If you are used to being called in to school for a child’s behaviour, if the police are regular visitors at your home, or if you are hiding something that is happening in your family because you are too ashamed to talk about it – child to parent violence for instance, then its not going to go so well. If we want to really work in partnership with parents, to help people feel valued and not ashamed, to encourage people to be open with us, then we need to choose our words extraordinarily carefully. Not just with comments like this one of course, but everything we say. We won’t always get it right. But if we start to think about it then that must be a good thing, yes?
(Bizarrely this article appeared in the Guardian this week, and seems to demonstrate clearly every possible way of alienating parents and preventing working in partnership!)