Building Strong Relationships with Positive Observations

Amanda Bryans

One of the most important things we can do to engage parents in Head Start is observe and report to them positive things about their children. Parenting young children is very hard work even in the best circumstances. When there are inadequate resources, the work is even harder. Getting food on the table, arranging transportation to and from work, and shuttling kids to doctor appointments and school can be overwhelming. The list goes on and on.

Countless families who come to Head Start have not heard many good things about their children. So, make it a practice to tell every parent something genuinely great about their child. Tell the parent about an amazing building the child made; a great word that he used; a problem that she solved; the unusual ability to get other children to follow in a game; an elaborate dramatic play idea; a song; or the child's ability to persevere.

All children, even those with various challenges, have unique qualities and attributes, and noticing these can help otherwise overwhelmed parents feel hopeful. Two cautions: First, this is not about empty or generic praise. Be sure you have a genuine observation to report. Second, if a parent is in the throes of having a hard time with a child, make sure you give them a chance to talk about that.  As you deliver your observations to the parent, if you can manage it, make sure the child hears you as well.

An indirect compliment has bigger impact that a direct one. It makes children feel valuable and important when an adult reports something great about them, and this helps them find their place in the Head Start program. This is applies to babies too! They may not understand all the words, but they often understand more than we think.

Purposely looking for children's gifts and abilities also enhances our own skills for working with children. It facilitates the development of regard and respect for individual children and allows us to better individualize. Teachers, directors, family service workers, transportation, and nutrition staff can all participate in this kind of professional development.

Practice this important skill using the National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement's (PFCE) new Boosting School Readiness through Effective Family Engagement Simulation. The PFCE Simulation highlights the power that positive observations of a child's behavior has on building strong relationships with families that are based on trust and mutual respect.

Amanda Bryans is the Education and Comprehensive Services Division Director, Office of Head Start.

Building Strong Relationships with Positive Observations. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2012. English.

Last Reviewed: December 2012

Last Updated: March 24, 2015