8.2 Effective Strengths-Based Parent Education

What Is It?

Supporting parent strengths and capacities is a fundamental element of the home-based option. Your primary goal is to strengthen the parent–child relationship and to support parents’ confidence and skills to be an effective learning partner for their child. Parent development can take many forms, and one of them is to build on the principles of adult learning to encourage and support parents as they foster their child’s development. Home visiting in Head Start and Early Head Start (EHS) is a strengths-based approach that respects each family’s diversity, home language, cultural and ethnic background and their own perception of young children’s development. Your role as a home visitor is to be aware of the family’s strengths and seize the teachable moments to highlight what parents are doing that you want them to repeat when you are not present. That is at the core of a strengths-based approach to home visiting.

Strengths-based practice has been defined as seeing people as “having potential and power” rather than being “at risk.” It emphasizes opportunities, hopes, and solutions, with the home visitor as a partner to the family (Hammond, 2010).

A strengths perspective rests on five basic assumptions.

  • Despite life’s problems, all people possess strengths.

  • Family motivation is encouraged by an emphasis on strengths.

  • The discovery of family strengths occurs through a cooperative partnership between staff and families.

  • A focus on strengths shows, instead, how the family has managed to navigate.

  • All environments and situations—even the most bleak—contain strengths.(Adapted from Preventing Family Crisis, Preventing Family Crisis - Head Start)

“Early relationships must emphasize the strengths and resources of each participant. Everyone has strengths, even the newborn. Helping parents realize their own strengths and the strengths of their infant builds their confidence and supports parent and infant interactions. This is not to obscure the fact that many families have significant needs. Rather, by building on strengths, trusting relationships can be built that will make addressing families’ needs more successful. (Head Start Bulletin #78)

How To

You may use “effective strengths-based parent education, including methods to encourage parents as their child’s first teachers” [Sec. 645A. [42 U.S.C. 9840A] (i)(2)(B)] by:

  • noticing and building on the unique strengths of the parent and child rather than correcting weaknesses. For example, “I noticed how he really wants to be held only by his mom, dad, and grandma. He feels very safe with each of you. What a lucky baby to have so many people who love him.”

  • assisting parents to reflect on outcomes by providing feedback and information to promote responsive parent–child interaction. For example, “María smiles back to you every time you engage her in ‘conversation.’ She feels she matters to you.”

  • bringing a sense of wonder and discovery to learning about this unique child’s ways of interacting with the world—a discovery you and the parents are making together. For example, you might say, “I wonder what she’s thinking as she’s stacking those egg cartons. Do you ever feel like you can tell what she is thinking?”

  • having a deep knowledge of child development and ways to promote learning that you can share with parents, with an appreciation of how much there is to know about development. For example, “He looks frustrated, but he also looks like he is trying to reach for that rattle. Maybe we can watch for a moment and see if he can get it. He’s learning about what his body can do and pushing himself just a little bit because he wants that rattle.”

  • paying attention to and commenting on the parents’ resilience and protective factors. For one, they have demonstrated a commitment to their child by enrolling in your program. Parents want what is best for their child; even if they make choices with which you disagree.

  • (if it aligns with the family’s vision) encouraging parents to pursue or continue their own education by working toward a GED, vocational opportunity, and/or college degree but also honoring parents’ decisions not to pursue formal education.

  • using the Head Start Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Framework to explore outcomes such as family well-being or families as lifelong educators (http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/standards/IMs/2011/pfce-framework.pdf):

  • using program and community supports and resources, such as Workforce Development Programs or the United Way, to promote progress on family and child development goals;

  • genuinely sharing information and ideas as equal partners, valuing what the family offers;

  • welcoming all families—and all family structures, sizes, and arrangements; for example, having forms that say “parent/guardian/caregiver 1” and “parent/guardian 2” rather than “mom/dad” and having photos of various families in your socialization space (e.g., single fathers with babies, grandparents, and same-sex couples);

  • initiating relationships with families that are receptive, responsive, and respectful;

  • engaging in honest dialogue with families about their hopes, dreams, and needs while balancing staff/program objectives as well as what your program can do in partnership with them and where you can help them find other supportive resources;

  • developing your own relationship-building knowledge and skills that are grounded in cross-cultural competence, responsiveness, and strengths-based perspectives;

  • gaining knowledge about mental health, child development, and a variety of parenting practices, including unique ways to meaningfully engage fathers; and

  • reflecting on your own daily practice and personal experience to increase self-awareness and effective relationship building with families.