Being a help desk
As parents and carers come to see you as someone who can equip and help them, they will begin to ask you questions. We always want to respond to them in a way that empowers and encourages them rather than in a way that makes them feel less confident and more reliant on us.
Here are some pointers to help you do that:
- Be available. On Sunday mornings, it can feel like you need to be running around like a headless chicken, but try to delegate and use your team so that you can be visible and able to chat with parents and carers. Find a place that you can be on a Sunday morning, where parents can bump into you or ask a quick question. Most won’t consider their question important enough to call or email you but if they spot you and you’re free for a quick chat, will open up.
- Listen well. Our first job is to fully understand by listening carefully and asking questions to understand more about their situation. Ask yourself ‘What is the underlying fear or need behind this story?’. This helps you to respond in a way that helps with the immediate need as well as the bigger issue if there is something else going on.
- Praise what you can. Hold fire on immediately jumping into problem-solving mode. More important than you helping with their problem is to first encourage them by reinforcing key truths that they are the expert in their own child(ren), that there is no one right way to handle this situation and they will already be doing some things well.
- Give choices. This is important for helping parents to solve problems for themselves rather than making them dependent on coming to us for answers. Give ideas for some next steps and help them decide what they’d like to try for their child on this occasion.
- Follow up. Whenever you can, send a quick email, text or ask in person how things went. This can be really powerful for helping parents feel supported and encouraged. It shows that you care about them and their children, you’re not just a search engine for advice.
Should we always wait for parents to approach us?
Sometimes parents feel overwhelmed and don’t know you are there to help. When you spot this, it’s fine to gently approach them. Try to position yourself so that you’re not saying ‘You need to do this and I will tell you how’ but more ‘this looks tough but you’ve got this, I am here if you want any support or help’.
What if I feel out of my depth and don’t know how to support them?
Particularly if we aren’t parents ourselves or haven’t had any experience of the situation they are describing, we can easily feel like we’re unqualified to help. You will find though, that most parents don’t expect this of you. They are not asking because they think you are the world's leading expert on this particular topic but because you are willing and available to support them.
Even if you do have experience of a very similar situation, avoid just sharing exactly how you handled it - their child, parenting style and the details of the situation will be different to yours. Your experience might provide some ideas for options to suggest them but you’re not trying to get them to parent exactly like you.
It is also okay to say ‘I’m not sure yet’ and do some research or ask someone else before coming back to them.
This content has been adapted from It Takes A Church To Raise A Parent. For more on being the help desk, see chapter six.