How do you mitigate challenges and conflict in your child care center?

Have you ever had one of those days that are going perfect and you're about to note that perfection in your personal record book as- Best Day Ever?

Then all of a sudden, PLOT TWIST - you are confronted with an upset parent, or you have to handle an unpleasant situation with a staff member, and the day just goes off to the deep end?

You then find yourself with a completely different mindset and you're ready to grab that big black permanent marker to now write - Worst Day Ever in this imaginary record book of yours!

I get it, we have all been there!

So how do you let this negative moment not ruin your day/evening/weekend? How can you shake it off and let it roll out of your mind like water off a duck's back? Let’s be honest, childcare is one of the most rewarding yet stressful careers. It’s like a rollercoaster ride each and every day, you never know if you are about to be going up or down.

I have overheard conversations amongst child care directors and owners that there is a shift and change in our workforce causing parent and staff interactions to be more demanding and confrontational. These past few years we have been faced with many challenges outside of our control. So, how do you handle these challenging situations and not let them control you? Have you ever heard: You don’t have a good day, you make a good day!

Let’s explore Three strategies to help mitigate conflict and get you the empowerment to seize the day!

Strategy 1 - Mitigate Conflict Before It Starts

Relationships: Building a strong relationship with your families and staff is extremely important in this step. If you have a solid foundation with each other, then it allows for tough conversations to happen in a more civil way. This opens up the door to a level of understanding that both parties have good intentions and want what is best to resolve the situation in question.

Emotions: Understanding the difference between someone displaying aggression or assertiveness is another critical step in handling a situation to keep the conversation to just that of discussion and not heighted. Our first typical response when placed in a situation where our emotions are deeply involved is to become defensive. An aggressive person is doing just that, they feel like they need to protect themselves against harm which puts them on edge and combative. However, assertive communication is where someone stands their ground but is still open to comments or feedback. Being assertive in a conversation is a way to assist in mitigating conflict, you are still providing straightforward communication but combining your self-esteem and empathy to the other party involved.

Criticism: Accepting constructive criticism or providing constructive criticism is necessary when working with teachers, children or parents. As a childcare professional your role is to help grow, strengthen, and develop others, while still building your business. As caregivers there is a unique understanding on how to teach children with a calm and nurturing heart. If a caregiver knocked down a children's development with harsh feedback, the child wouldn’t trust them anymore and one would see their growth slow down or regress. This is the same concept and idea of when we are receiving feedback ourselves or providing feedback to a parent or teacher. Maintain a calm front, practice active listening and try to take your personal emotions out of the conversation. This will help any conversation to remain positive and not roll into a conflict situation. It is ok to state something like: “Why don’t we take some time to reflect on this situation and continue this conversation at _____ time?”

Strategy 2 - Understanding the conflict

Listen: Take a step back and listen to what the other person is stating. Take a position of active listening and try hard to understand their point of view. Many individuals are surprised when they do this that their point of view is similar to the other party. If you have an irate parent, ask how/what questions like: What else is important for me to know about this? How would you like for me to handle this? What do you think the next steps should be? Asking open ended questions and listening to them will help the parent feel valued and appreciated. Show empathy if you have a policy that will not allow their request but work on a solution that both parties can agree on.

Facts: Investigate the situation to get the facts of what has happened, never just assume you know the details. If a teacher or parent is coming to you about a situation let them know what they are saying is important to you, but you would like to investigate it on their behalf so that you can come to the best solution. Never feel like you need to pull all parties at that moment and come up with a solution right then and there. Make sure you let them know that you will investigate this and get back to them at a set time, ensuring that you do follow up with them.

Root Cause: After you have listened and investigated it is time to define the problem. Sometimes this can be a quick resolution and sometimes when the situation is larger it can take some time. In order to “solve” the problem at hand you must really know what the problem is.

Perspective: There are always different personalities or perspectives in most situations. This brings us back into the importance of building that strong relationship and foundation with families and teachers. It is so important that you get to know them on a professional personal level. This will always be the number one key in childcare to mitigate conflict.

Past Hurts: Are unresolved problems from the past coming up and causing this situation to become even larger? When discussing the situation try to peel back the layers, like an onion and find out what the main cause is. We have all heard about the iconic childcare lost sock situation- a parent comes to you about their child missing a sock and you say you will find it. This ends up snowballing and causing a foundation of mistrust.

Avoidance: Never Ignore the conflict this will only cause it to increase and grow overtime. There is no one that truly likes conflict or enjoys the stress it can bring on. Ignoring a conflict situation will end up causing it to be much bigger and add even more stress to all parties. You might think you have avoided it, but trust me, it will come back.

Strategy 3 - Don't let the conflict control you

Willpower: Mind over matter, control your thoughts by using willpower. Man, is this the hardest thing we have to do! We tend to let our mind wander and spiral into so many different areas. We all have a natural tendency to want others to like us, causing us to overthink situations. Working in childcare people tend to be “people pleasers” and will overwork themselves till they please everyone. Don’t let these natural tendencies take control over you. Breathe through the situations and work to control your mind. You have control over your emotions and the moment you realize this you will no longer feel like others are at blame. You can not control other people but you can control your own self.

We are Unique: Learn to be the duck playing in the pond letting the water roll off your back. Accepting that you are a unique person with your own thoughts, emotions and skills. Develop an understanding that every conversation you have is different depending who you are speaking with and the situation at hand. Once you can understand your own perspective, as well as the other parties, then this can come easier. It is not something that tends to come naturally, so you must work on this on a regular basis.

Outcomes: Set realistic goals and outcomes giving yourself a sense of direction and purpose. When you give yourself a set goal then it can help turn your thoughts into positive instead of negative. When you have that parent or teacher come to you with a situation, know that finding a solution can be an opportunity for growth and not destruction. Make it a challenge to find a positive outcome in every negative situation. Take the words “should” and “must” out of your vocabulary. If you set realistic goals then you can achieve them by taking it one step at a time. Yes, you will hit roadblocks but do not let this stop you. Take a breath, reevaluate and continue on. Keep track of your goals and solutions to reflect back on. It is truly amazing what you can achieve if you put your mind to it.

Daycare challenges and a duck

The above three strategies are filled with many different approaches to leading your school with confidence as you maintain a peaceful environment within your team.

You just need to ask yourself, are you ready to be that duck playing in the water and seizing the day?

The image of a duck enjoying their day helps me personally reflect on the notion that I can control my mind, myself and outcomes.

Whatever that image is, print it out and place it in a spot as a reminder that you are in control of you. Set your personal goals of how you can handle conflict and revisit them to see your progress. Remember this is not something you can change overnight. It takes patience, determination and practice.

Do You Need Help With Your School's Culture?

If you're struggling with pressures of the day-to-day obstacles and feel hopeless, exhausted and burnt out, let our team at Child Care Biz Help bring in new energy.

Our team will help take burdens off your plate, provide you support, and develop a new unity at your child care center that you may not have experienced in a long time.

Contact us for more details on our Another You Program.

Article written by Kate Burch, Child Care Consultant, Child Care Biz Help

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