Observe and describe the child's behavior to open communication with the family


The child is the common focus for families and programs. When staff ask for parents' observations of a child's behavior and share their own, they create opportunities for discussion. Simple, clear descriptions of a child's behavior, without interpretations or judgments, give families and staff the chance to make meaning of that behavior together. This creates a starting point for discussion that can help identify common ground and differences.

This strategy invites families to guide the conversation about their child. Often families react and respond to the program's ideas or agenda. This practice gives families the space to volunteer and share what they see, know, and want for their child.


  • Share positive, genuine, and specific information about the child with the family.
  • Recognize the child's strengths and share them with the family.
  • Use simple, clear and objective descriptions of the child's behavior.
  • Ask for a parent's observations and listen to what they think these mean about their child.
  • Begin challenging conversations by asking parents about what they see, behaviors that concern them, and what they think these may mean. It's important to know what kind of meaning parents make of their child's behavior. Then, share a description of what you see and give parents a chance to join in with their ideas.
  • Wait before asking a lot of questions. Instead, start with a description of the child's behavior or a specific situation from the day. Leave time for the parent to share their ideas rather than be guided by a specific question based on your own agenda. Instead of sharing your own interpretation, listen to how the parent makes meaning of the behavior.


"You and your child are always ready when the bus arrives. We really appreciate that."

"I saw that he looked at you and grabbed onto your shirt as I came into the house."

"I've been watching him explore with paint and getting used to the different brushes. He also tells stories about his paintings. You told me you want him to paint more realistic paintings. I wonder if he'll begin to do that once his painting skills catch up to his ideas. He is really sticking with it, and he loves it! I think we both want to help him work toward the same goal."

"I notice that she often pats other children when they are crying."

"I notice that every time you begin a conversation with me, he begins to tug at your arm."


Reflect on a time when you used this practice with a family. What did you say or do?

Reflect on a time when this practice would have helped you build a relationship with a family. What would you have said or done?