Effective communication and information sharing is helpful to develop an understanding across home and the education setting for both families and staff, build relationships and ensure coordinated support for children’s mental health and development. Parents and carers have valuable insights and information to share with education staff. Sharing information about your child’s strengths, concerns, personality traits, challenges, habits, relationships, friends, hobbies, etc. can help ensure that education staff can provide informed support for your child’s social and emotional wellbeing.

Regular effective communication can have many benefits:

  • Families and staff are more likely to share information if they feel listened to and understood by each other.
  • Education staff can build a deeper understanding of the children in their care.
  • Families can feel more involved in their child’s experiences at the early childhood service or school.
  • A model of communication is demonstrated to children, which may help them in their own social development.
  • Regular and effective communication can help children build good relationships with staff when they see their families and staff communicating well.
  • When support is needed for mental health concerns, the concerns can be communicated and understood early and solutions can be worked out together.

What does effective communication between families and education staff look like?

Effective communication is a two-way process, where each person takes responsibility for their own part, and it can be verbal or non-verbal. Verbal communication can be spoken conversations (e.g. face-to-face, phone calls) and written messages (e.g. letters, email, newsletters). Non-verbal communication includes body language (e.g. arms crossed, leaning forward), facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures. Non-verbal communication is particularly important when trying to communicate and understand meaning, complex feelings, willingness to engage in conversation, ideas and concepts. When people communicate effectively, they are able to talk openly about what is on their mind and develop a shared understanding. Building your active listening skills can also help you concentrate and understand effectively what education staff and children are communicating.

Regular effective communication requires adaptability and flexibility. Here are some tips for effective communication with education staff:

  • active listening: be attentive, listen carefully, make eye contact, be aware of body language, facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice to get an idea of how they are feeling and avoid misunderstandings
  • ask questions and summarise what the speaker has said to check that you have accurately understood the information
  • use non-blaming and ‘I’ statements to help clarify your point of view. For example, ‘I feel worried when I see that Jenny is starting to get angry’
  • describe clearly and honestly what you would like to talk about. Try to use specific examples if you can to help teachers understand your child’s context
  • be aware of how differences in upbringing, family values, culture, strengths, interests and experiences can mean that people have different points of view
  • be flexible in communicating through different channels, for example, face-to-face, email, telephone
  • consider whether the communication needs further follow-up and try to arrange a time to do so.

When families and education staff communicate effectively, it helps build trust and makes them feel more comfortable in talking about important information, sharing concerns or asking for help. Some common topics that families and education staff might communicate about include:

  • sharing concerns about children’s mental health and wellbeing or behaviour
  • sharing developmental milestones, children’s achievements and strengths
  • talking about any relevant information relating to major family events or changes
  • sharing parenting knowledge (e.g. in early childhood development)
  • talking about children’s relationships, friendships and play
  • talking about any changes within the education setting that might impact on children
  • keeping each other aware of any community activities or resources
  • updates in the external  help-seeking process after concerns have been discussed
  • providing updates from health and community professionals with strategies for education staff to implement at the school/early childhood service.

Make sure that when you are approaching and communicating with education staff that you are following your school’s or early childhood service’s protocols regarding appropriate parent/staff communication and contact.

Resources

Building effective communication with education staff

Building active listening skills

Suggestions for positive communication

Communication with school: children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorder