When most parents think about school counselors, they assume that the counselor’s primary job is to help students select classes and build their schedules. Some might work with a counselor when a student is having trouble, academic or otherwise, but in most parents have little or no relationship with their child’s counselor.

But what many parents don’t realize is that the counselors working in schools today are trained mental health professionals who are there to support student wellness in all areas, including academic, social and physical, and career. Rather than simply fulfilling an advisory role, they use their knowledge and experience to develop programs based on the needs of the school community as a whole as well as individual students; most have advanced degrees, with many earning an online master’s in school counseling.

A key part of a school counselor’s success is a strong relationship with parents, who often don’t understand the counselor’s role, or who may be feeling frustrated or defensive about the counselor’s involvement. With that in mind, following are six ways that counselors can forge better relationships with parents, ensuring that they, and their students, meet their goals.

1. Communicate What You Offer

Often, parents don’t utilize school counseling resources because they do not realize or understand what resources are available. Again, many parents may base their perceptions on their own experience, not realizing how school counseling has changed in recent years. They may not realize the higher education involved in becoming a school counselor. Counselors are usually required to have a masters degree in counseling, such as through this program offered at Gwynedd Mercy University.

Make a point of notifying parents about what you have to offer, using email or a website, sending home flyers and letters with students, and being present at school events. Reach out to parents proactively so they are prepared to come to you when necessary.

2. Offer Workshops

One powerful form of parent outreach is a series of workshops. Once suggestion is to partner with the school’s parent-teacher organization to conduct a survey about the topics that are most relevant to parents, and hosting workshops or providing information packets to hand out during meetings or at parent-teacher conferences. By making yourself a source of education and support, parents will be more likely to reach out.

3. Develop Better Listening Skills

Listening is an essential part of becoming a great counselor. By working on your active listening skills, you’ll be in a better position to actually hear what your students and their parents are saying and provide better insights and solutions. Work on using the language that parents use to describe their children and behaviors rather than using clinical terminology; when you do, you’ll build more rapport and show a greater degree of understanding.

4. Develop Empathy

One of the outcomes of improved listening is a greater sense of empathy. Often, school counselors have a tendency to jump right into offering education and solutions when parents come to them with problems, but by leading with empathy, and showing that you understand their plight and want to help leads to better results. Show that you understand, ask questions about what they have tried, and avoid putting parents on the defensive.

5. Be Sensitive When Giving Advice

Parents will come to you for insight and advice, but they don’t want to feel disapproval and judgement. When providing advice, be sensitive to the individual family situation, culture, religion, or other factors that could influence their response.

Again, asking questions, listening carefully, and coming from a place of support can prevent misunderstandings or even offending or angering parents.

6. Provide Genuine Validation

Parenting is difficult, and parents want to feel supported and validated in their choices. It’s not always easy, but acknowledging their involvement and complimenting them on their commitment to doing what’s best for their child can go a long way toward building rapport. Most parents — even great ones — often feel like failures, so noticing and commenting on positive efforts helps boost their confidence and help your students.

7. Develop Shared Goals

At the end of the day, you are on the same team as parents, so be sure they know that by setting shared goals together. By listening, you can determine the parent’s goals for their child and, even if the parental efforts at dealing with a problem aren’t ideal, establish that you are all working toward the same thing. When you get everyone on the same page, the relationship is more productive.

Building parent relationships takes time, and there may be some parents with whom you never really connect. However, when you put forth the effort, you can be a better resource in your student’s lives and help them succeed both in and out of school.

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