tips for communicating with your students' parents
Everything we do communicates something. It's a simple truth that both our verbal as well as our non-verbal actions are very powerful. While I know this, implementing it was a bit of a challenge when I began considering week-to-week communication with parents.
Communicating with parents is something many of us take for granted. We either don't think about it and just go through the motions, or we dread it. Yet, making an effort to be consistently available to parents is valuable, if for no other reason that they don't feel like they're alone in spiritually guiding their children. However, as we engage with parents, it's vital that we're aware of not only the words that are coming out of our mouths, but what is being communicated through our other actions.
It seems to me that there are an infinite number of actions to consider when we're communicating with parents.
Availability in person, effective lines of communication, and openness in meetings with parents in ways that make them feel comfortable are all things to be considered as we communicate. But there are some other practical things we can consider as we seek to make sure our communication with parents is clear and meaningful.
When people venture onto our church campuses, we must make it as easy as possible for them to speak with Pastors and Leaders. This is especially true for our students' parents. In my experience, parents have expressed that not knowing the name of a Pastor or Leader can be an initial communication barrier. Parents aren't as comfortable as their children with saying, “Hey you!”, to get the attention of a Pastor or Leader! Thus the need for name tags.
And it's not just your leaders that can benefit from name tags. It's important for parents and Leaders to know each other by name, as well. Ideally, parents will know the Leader of their child's small group. I've seen the parents of my students know their child's Life Group Leader before they know me, the Youth Pastor. And that's OK. But a name tag for everyone is not a bad idea. Name tags are incredibly practical, as well as cheap and easy to make. They don't have to be cutting edge, but you may be surprised how effective they are at breaking down some communication barriers in your ministry.
Letters, Emails, and Texts
All parents communicate in different ways. Some parents are old school and love handwritten letters, while others live on their phone. Some parents love to have a hard copy of the lesson we are teaching so they can go through it, highlight and mark it up, and reinforce it with their child. Other parents will only look at information or lessons if I email it to them. Some absolutely love hand-outs with schedules and dates, and some want week-of or day-of texts to remind them.
Now, you can't reasonably tailor-make communication methods for every student’s parent. While communicating with every parent in an individual way doesn't make sense, providing several different ways for parents to access information, resources, and people does. Making sure you cover a wide variety of communication methods will increase the ways in which your students are equipped. Early in my ministry I got pigeon-holed into only one idea, communicated in one way. In limiting my ways of communicating, I neglected parents that just did not communicate in that way. We all seem to understand that all students are different. And yet, all parents are different as well.
On Their Turf
Many students that are active in my youth ministry have parents who are not active in our church, or any church for that matter. Maybe you can relate. Additionally, you may also relate to the fact that, in most cases, the common denominator between you, as a Youth Pastor or Leader, and the parent who is not currently involved in church, is that you both share a heart for their child. While meeting with the parent who is not involved in church may not always be easy or convenient, it is necessary. Oftentimes, we need to be willing to make the church office or youth room the last-case option for a face-to-face meeting up.
Meeting parents on their turf and in places where they are most comfortable will lead the way into open communication and a developing relationship. Be willing to meet with parents at their favorite coffee shop, their house for dinner to hang out with the student and family. Just don't think "Church first." For some parents, it's the only way you'll get a foot in the door.
So, these are just a few thoughts on the whys and hows of communicating with parents. What are some tips that have helped you?
[ym360 Note: Every once in a while we'll run a previously published post, an oldie-but-a-goodie that still has some relavant truth for the youth workers in the ym360 Community. Today's one of those days. :) This post was originally published in March of 2012.]