Communication and Confidentiality: Building Trust

Before we dive into our next topic, here is a little news: Our communication contest has been extended until FRIDAY, January 27 at 6 pm EST. I spoke with a ministry leader yesterday who would like her volunteers to take a crack at this, so we’re giving them a little extra time…which means YOU have some extra time, too! I’ve gotten some great entries, and look forward to reading YOURS as well…email me!

During the past week, we’ve discussed ways to communicate positively and effectively about children with special needs. Whether we are sending emails, having a Skype conversation, or talking face-to-face, our communication needs to be above reproach; every single child about whom we’re talking is treasured by a parent. (just like God treasures us!)

Every child is unique…and so is every parent. Thus, parents’ communication styles and expectations may vary widely. Some parents might come to you with more information than you think you need. Others will drop off their child without a word…just a weary look of relief. A few might even show up on Sunday morning and, with palpable frustration, say, “Here. You deal with him for a while.”

Research about parent-teacher relationships tells that shared expectations leads to more positive, collaborative problem-solving (and higher rates of learning for children!) That’s why it’s important for us to communicate clearly about our plans for kids’ programming, rules for behavior and also our own need for information. One way to do this is by providing a covenant like this one, which clearly lists the rights and responsibilities of everyone (including the child!)

Inclusion Ministry Covenant

And now…a little problem solving! Last week, I received an email from a colleague with this question:

In the past, a parent was upset that we had talked about her child in a Buddy meeting without her present. We thus changed our meeting agendas to be general topics like how to calm an upset child rather than how to calm “James”. We do communicate with parents about any concerns after service. Would you as a parent be upset that this group exists and you are not part of it?

My answer:

It’s hard for parents sometimes when they feel like people are “talking behind their back…” even though your purpose is NOT gossip, but rather, good, solid problem-solving. I think that you can be honest with all parents and say that you, as a ministry team, have regularly scheduled meetings during which you plan, pray and problem-solve. Including parents in these meetings isn’t necessarily appropriate, as you’ll be discussing LOTS of kids’ needs. If a parent expresses that he/she would like to be included, by all means, find a way to include the parent…through email, a separate meeting, a phone call, etc. Also, reflect on the parents’ feelings, if possible: “I can tell from what you are saying that it’s uncomfortable to have people planning for your child when you aren’t involved.” See if this helps the parent to express her feelings about this, and use it as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship –and trust–with her.

Would I be upset if the group existed and I wasn’t part of it? Hmmm…I think the upset would come from finding out the group existed and I didn’t know about it. This happened to me once…a group was talking about my kid and I had NO idea she was being observed. Then, out of the blue, I got a phone call that someone was going to “take Annie out of the class and work 1:1 with her because she needs help.” That was VERY hard…because everything had been going so well, and I had no idea she needed help. As it turned out, the call was made from a new, overly exuberant volunteer…in fact, my child DIDN’T need extra help at all. However, it took a while for me to re-build my trust with the ministry team.

After receiving my email response, my colleague sent a note back to me and summed up this week’s theme beautifully:

Good communication builds trust.

Stay tuned…Tomorrow: A few online sites to facilitate communication + Five Facts for Friday.

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