Working Together: A Positive Experience for All "I can do things you cannot. You can do things I cannot. Together we can do Great Things." - Mother Teresa It's so important that all children, especially those with special needs, have the opportunity to learn and develop in a positive and caring environment. Research shows that when the adults in a child's life practice cooperative and supportive relationships, it directly impacts the child's emotional, physical and intellectual development. For this reason, it's imperative that parents and providers work and partner together for the success of the child. The first way to begin building a mutually caring relationship is to understand that both the family and the provider have similar anxieties and concerns. Parents Have Concerns Will my child be accepted here? What should I tell them about my child? Will other children want to play or talk with my child? Will my child make friends? Will the provider want to care for my child? Will my child be safe here? Will they know how to care for my child or will they be willing to learn how? The Family's Viewpoint - CONNECT Module (video) Providers Have Concerns I don't know anything about caring for a child with a disability. I'm not sure I'm qualified to care for a child with a disability. Will I be able to meet the child's needs? What if they have special medical or health needs? Will I be prepared to help the child if they get injured or need medical help? Will I have to make major changes to my program? What if the other children don't want to play with them? The Teacher's Viewpoint - CONNECT Module (video) If you read the concerns again, I think you'll notice many of them have a common theme: doing what is best for the child. When parents and providers work together toward a common goal, in this case, the child, then good things are sure to happen. The following are suggestions for how collaboration and teamwork can create a positive, healthy, and successful experience for the child. Successful Strategies Getting Started Providers Welcome family members and invite them to spend time in your program so that the child is able to explore their new surroundings while knowing that a familiar adult is nearby. This will allow you to have insight into how the family interacts with each other and learn more about the child and their special needs. If you feel comfortable, you will also have a chance to ask questions if any arise. Take extra time to help the child feel welcome during their first week or so in your program. For example, introduce them to the other children in their class or help to answer any questions that the children may have about their new friend. Asking questions is a normal part of learning and children can ask some pretty difficult (and sometimes uncomfortable) questions. Take the time to address any and all questions, making sure to give information that is appropriate for the age of the child. Don't know the answer? That's ok. Explain that to the child and tell them that you will do your best to find the answer and let them know later. Parents If possible, plan your schedule so that during your child's first days in their new program, you can spend some time on-site helping them get used to their new surroundings. This is a good time to answer any questions that the provider may have and will give you a chance to ask if they have any questions about your child or their disability or special needs. The more information you can provide, the more successful the new experience will be for your child. Communication and Sharing Information Communicate openly, honestly and with compassion, and look for the same in return. Remember, it's about building a strong relationship that will lead to a positive and successful experience for the child. On a daily or weekly basis, take the time to talk and discuss how the child is doing. This informal check-in process can help to make sure everyone is on the same page and that information continues to be shared. These simple interactions can go a long way to building a relationship that is based on open communication. Every month or two, it is good to check in on how the child's overall development is progressing. Are there new skills that are being learned? Are there any concerns in the child's development? We all know how exciting it is to see a child learning new things, but don't be afraid to ask about or mention any concerns you might be having as well. The goal of having this type of discussion is to make sure the child's development is progressing appropriately and if not, to address the concerns as soon as they are recognized. Remember that a child's needs can change over time and for this reason it's important to continue to share new information, such as new techniques or modifications that could be used to support the child's skill development. Every so often, it might be necessary to set aside some time to brainstorm together on how best to support the child's development. If something's not working any longer, tweak it or figure out something new to try. Work together to figure out a solution that best supports the child's continued development. Discussing Concerns If a problem or concern is brought up, discuss it openly and look for solutions. Don't put it off! Be proactive and look for solutions when the problem is small and manageable. Choose words that are truthful, but not hurtful. Strong relationships are built by people who care enough to share information (some of which may be difficult), but also care enough to comfort, listen and empathize. If a larger problem or concern needs to be discussed, find a time to meet when children are not around and the situation can be talked about privately. It's important that this type of meeting takes place so that everyone's full attention can be focused on the task at hand. If necessary, find out what help and support are available through other agencies, such as the Birth-to-3 program, your local school district, early childhood special education, etc. Discussing these options or topics can be difficult, but it is for these reasons that working on creating an honest and caring relationship is so important. Remember, even though these discussions may be uncomfortable, as long as you remain positive and keep the child's best interest in mind, the meeting is bound to be beneficial for everyone involved. Resources - Communication and Family Engagement A Thinking Guide to Inclusive Childcare - Mark Sweet The CORE of a Good Life: Guided Conversations with Parents on Raising Children with Disabilities - Mark Sweet Partnering with Families of Children with Special Needs - NAEYC CONNECT Module 3: Communication for Collaboration - Frank Porter Graham, North Carolina CONNECT Module 4: Family-Professional Partnerships - Frank Porter Graham, North Carolina Policy Statement on Family Engagement: From the Early Years to the Early Grades - DOE and DHHS If you have questions or concerns about a child's development (physical, social-emotional, or cognitive), contact: Wisconsin First Step Information and Referral Hotline at 1-800-642-STEP (7837). Information about Early Identification/Screening and Child Find can be found at the Collaborating Partners website.