How To Build Trust When Communicating With Families Of Special Needs Children

Communication is an invaluable tool for any profession, but particularly in a field where you work with children who have behavioral and intellectual challenges. Speaking in non-technical terms, actively listening, and remaining calm are all key to effective communication. However, as a behavioral health professional, you also need to know how to openly and honestly communicate with your patients — and their families — in order to build a trusting relationship.

Sometimes, it can be intimidating to candidly discuss issues with families of special needs children. It’s of the utmost importance that you overcome those uncomfortable moments in order to build trust and progress with treatment. Even if it isn’t always what families want to hear, they may need to hear it. They need to know about the challenges their child is having, especially if you need their assistance in improving the situation and helping their child to succeed. Therefore, these families need to trust that you will always be frank, regardless of the situation.

In addition to struggles, you need to communicate when there are successes — both large and small. What may seem like a minor improvement for some could actually be a major triumph for their child. Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool. It allows families, and children, to feel the satisfaction of progress. It allows them to celebrate achievement. And you should sincerely share in that joy.

Whether you’re sharing good or bad news, here are three communication tips to help build trust when working with families of special needs children.

#1: Be Confident

You are a behavioral health professional. Be confident in your knowledge and expertise, and let it show when communicating with families. Your confidence in your abilities will help the family have confidence in you and your capacity to assist their child. Confidence builds trust.

Confidence is not the same as cockiness, however. Confidence is the ability to believe in your skill as a behavioral health professional, but remain flexible to the opinions of others. Families won’t always agree with your ideas and methods, but your willingness to actively listen and adapt will help to further create an atmosphere of trust. It will also help build a stronger support team for the child.

#2: Be Positive

Families want hope. They want to be hopeful that progress is possible and that the future could be bright. They also want to trust that you care about their child. Keeping a positive attitude goes a long way in keeping that hope, even when things are rocky. While honesty is vital, try to be positive in your delivery. If it’s bad news, discuss how you’re going to adjust it for a positive outcome. If it’s good news, don’t just share that outcome; discuss how you’re going to build upon it.

Being positive doesn’t mean lying. Be confident in your ability to adjust, and be flexible. If something isn’t working, then be positive about your ability to adapt and progress.

#3: Be Consistent

Consistency is undeniably important. Not only does it help establish trust, but it also sets expectations. Families want to know their children are getting the best attention possible. By being consistent, you show them the progress of their child is your top priority. Consistency yields trust, and the families of children with behavioral and intellectual challenges want to trust you as the professional. Even when it’s a difficult conversation, having a consistent plan and a reliable course of action shows families you truly believe in their children.

Pathways is one of the largest national providers of accessible, outcome-based behavioral and mental health services. Pathways of Pennsylvania has been serving communities in Pennsylvania since 1981, and is comprised of four companies: Children’s Behavioral Health, Inc., Pathways Community Services, LLC, Raystown Developmental Services, Inc., and The ReDCo Group, Inc. We believe every individual has a right to lead a meaningful and positive life, and we are changing lives, one day at a time.