The most important resource available to help you make Scouting an exciting and meaningful experience for neurodiverse Scouts is their own parents or caregivers. While you may not feel a need to engage too much with the parents of some Scouts, having a strong working relationship with caregivers is vital when a neurodiverse Scout might not be a natural fit in your unit.
Sometimes, parents and caregivers can seem evasive or keen to avoid a conversation about their Scout. If a parent seems unwilling to meet with you, remember that they may be asked to frequently meet with teachers, medical staff, school administration staff and others who want to provide feedback on their child – and not all of it is positive! It’s important to ensure that you have developed a relationship with parents before there’s problems, so you have a foundation for cooperation. Take the opportunity to tell parents about what their Scout is succeeding at – a quick mention at the end up of the night or a text the next day can brighten up a parent’s day and remind them that you are enthusiastic about working with their child.
- Both caregivers and leaders need appreciation, information, and understanding from one another
- Both need to have their efforts acknowledged.
- Both need respect.
- Both need to work together, and to support each other, and to look for the best in each other, so we can give that best to the young people we work with.
Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish provided the following tips in their book How to Talk So Kids Can Learn:
Instead of starting with what’s wrong…
Start by describing something right
Leader: It was great to see Alex so engaged in our water safety night at the pool.
Parent: Alex liked getting to try on a life jacket and show what a great swimmer he is.
Instead of pointing out what the child hasn’t done…
Describe what the Scout needs to do – non-judgementally and objectively.
Leader: It’s important that Alex stays still and focused during opening parade, and asks questions after we’re done with parade.
Parent: When he gets excited, sometimes he loses awareness of when he’s not supposed to talk.
Instead of withholding information…
Share pertinent information
Parent: Alex finds it hard to concentrate after his medication wears off in the evening.
Leader: I’ve noticed Alex is really keen to share his knowledge with other Scouts.
Instead of giving each other advice…
Describe what has worked at home, school or Scouts
Parent: Alex’s teacher sometimes gives him a special object to hold to remind him that she needs to deliver a particular lesson without being interrupted.
Leader: I notice Alex is always very attentive when we have just finished playing a game or moving around lots.
Instead of giving up on the Scout…
Develop a plan together
Leader: I can try running a fast-paced game just before parade – lots of the Scouts enjoy that.
Parent: And I’ll talk to Alex about bringing a stress ball he can play with to help him stay focused.
Instead of ending on a negative note…
End the conversation with a positive statement that can be repeated to the Scout
Leader: Tell Alex I’m really impressed at how he’s been sharing his knowledge while we’ve been planning next week’s hike – he really knows his stuff.
Parent: I will. I know he’s excited to go.
Instead of forgetting the plan after the discussion…
Follow through with the plan.
Leader: Last week, we played ‘hospital tag’ before opening parade – Alex was really great at helping others.
Parent: Alex decided he doesn’t want to bring a stress ball, so he’s going to wiggle his toes while on parade; that way, nobody will see him fidgeting.
Obviously not every interaction will go this smoothly! You can only control what you say, and how you listen to the parent.
If you’d like to learn more about how to build a great working relationship with parents, you can download the chapter on parent-teacher interviews from How to Talk So Kids Can Learn at the link to the right. You can purchase the entire book through Amazon.