Staff-Parent Relationships That Support Parenting

Taking Steps to Strengthen Relationships and Support Parents

Teacher holding young boy as mother comes to pick him up after work.Parenting is the most powerful way a generation passes its beliefs, practices, and culture on to the next generation. At the same time, parenting is personal.

As we enter family work, we are putting ourselves in the middle of other people’s business. It is a sensitive and delicate process, and it is likely to differ from family to family. Genuine curiosity on the part of staff helps to create a welcoming environment for parents to share and learn about the experiences that make them who they are and inform how they parent.

When parents feel respected in their relationships with staff, they feel more comfortable engaging and partnering with staff about their parenting choices. Although staff individualize their approaches and interactions with each family, there are specific approaches they can use with all families.

There are many opportunities for Head Start staff and parents to have planned or unplanned discussions that include a focus on parenting and children’s learning and well-being. These discussions could take place during enrollment, drop-off and pick-up, home visits, conversations about the Family Partnership Agreements and goal-setting, staff-parent conferences, parent meetings offered through the parenting curriculum, or discussions related to health and safety. The way discussions are framed in each of these settings may differ. Whether formal or informal, however, these kinds of conversations can create and deepen relationships with parents. With each interaction, staff can enhance a collaborative exchange of ideas and plans.

While there is no set script for these discussions, there are three specific steps that family services professionals and home visitors can use to build relationships with parents and support their learning and decision-making:

  1. Listening and Accepting
  2. Learning and Finding Mutual Understanding
  3. Reaching Agreement on Plans and Next Steps

Learning from Your Interactions with Parents

Think about the three steps as you understand them and consider which is the most comfortable for you. Also think about the steps that seem to challenge you most often.

  • Which step seem to be the most meaningful for families?
  • Which step would you like to practice more and become more comfortable with?

Explore each step, then reflect on the prompts and questions as examples of discussion starters with parents. These open-ended questions encourage discussion and relationship-building between Head Start staff and parents.

To continue and deepen the conversation, staff can follow the parent’s lead and ask follow-up questions. Ultimately, these discussions become rich volleys of “serve and return” exchanges between staff and parents.