Children thrive when families and educators work together in partnership to support young children’s learning.
(EYLF, 2009, P.10)
Many of the guiding documents for our sector reference the significance of relationships between professionals and the families attending services. The pandemic has brought up many challenges for building relationships with families as well as new opportunities.
Adapting to the challenges of building relationships in a global pandemic
As we enter our third year of the pandemic, there is no doubt that parent-educator relationships have been detrimentally affected by stringent lockdowns, social distancing practices, and partial closure of early learning services in some states. Many early education services, including my own, have had to implement measures to promote safety. This means that many families may still be restricted from entering their child’s early learning environment, depending on the service's risk assessment.
With families facing the ongoing reality of decreased in-person time with their child’s educators, we have to be both flexible and innovative in how we communicate with them. When used correctly, digital platforms can help combat this lack of face time, allowing educators and families to engage one-on-one about a child’s progress, development, and disposition. These platforms are a wonderful way for busy families to ensure that they can see what is occurring within the service as programs, photos, and reflections are shared.
Beyond the use of digital platforms, I am a strong believer in the power of a phone call. Therefore, I allow time each week to call families who I feel may have concerns, feedback or contributions to make. I make these calls during allocated planning time or within quieter routine times, such as snack or rest time. Most families feel grateful that I’m taking time out of my day to contact them independently and often open up to me much more than they do when at the service.
Simple strategies for promoting trust when interacting with families
As with everything, we need to be intentional in the way we communicate with families. Simple strategies to promote these trusting relationships may include:
Using strength-based language
As a profession, we’re used to framing everything in a strength-based way, where we view the child as a whole person. When forming relationships with families, it’s important that they see our role as both an education professional and someone who can support them — and if negative language is being used, this simply will not happen. Families want to know that we see their children as they do, so it's important that we acknowledge the multitude of strengths we see.
Demonstrating how well you know their child
Each day, I try and tell parents about a little quirk I’ve observed, something their child achieved that day, or even a noticable moment that took place. These little anecdotes are an intentional practice to highlight the close relationship I have with their child.
Acknowledging family emotions
We need to remember that families often have anxiety around their child attending an early learning service. For many families, educators may be the first non-family member to care for their child. It’s important that we acknowledge this emotion and respond with kindness. Often on a child’s first day or week at a service, I’ll ask the guardian how they feel about their child’s transition. This shows yet again that I’m there to support the family as well as the child.
Focusing on more than just routine
I always try and put the child at the centre of my discussions with parents and guardians rather than their routine. Of course, if prompted, I will discuss routine tasks; but I work hard at ensuring that the child is the heart of the relationship between myself and the family.
Asking questions and acknowledging difference
It can be easy to avoid topics that may acknowledge differences in culture, behaviour, language or appearance. However, recognising the difference in a positive way shows families that you care about each child’s uniqueness and that you’re willing to work in partnership with them to ensure that all children's families feel a sense of belonging.
Overall, the most effective way of establishing a positive relationship between yourself and a child’s family is showing them the shared interest you have — that you both want the best for their child. A trusting relationship will generally follow with ease if we approach families and their children with empathy, openness, kindness, and respect.
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Meg is an Early Childhood Teacher in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne on Wurundjeri land. She has worked across a range of settings throughout her decade of work in the early learning sector, and is now pursuing postgraduate study in adult education. Meg is very passionate about advocating for the early childhood profession in a way that both challenges and empowers educators.