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 disabilities, have opportunities 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 essential 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? 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. Am I 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? What if the other children don't want to play with them? The Teacher's Viewpoint - CONNECT Module (video) If you read those concerns again, you'll notice that 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 and invite family members 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 practice also allows you to see how the family interacts with and supports/comforts each other. Take extra time to help the child feel welcome during their first week or so in your program. For example, take time to introduce them to the other children in their class or help answer any questions that the children may have about their new friend. Remember, asking questions is a normal part of learning and children can ask some pretty difficult (and sometimes uncomfortable) questions. Take time to address these 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 to spend some time on-site those first few days, helping your child get comfortable with their new surroundings. This is a good time to answer any questions that the provider may have about your child or their disability. The more information you can provide, the more successful the new experience will be for your child. Promoting Family Engagement Communication and Sharing Information Communicate openly, honestly and with compassion, and look for the same in return. Remember, putting in the effort necessary to build strong relationships with the adults in the child's life will lead to positive and successful experiences for the child. On a daily or weekly basis, take the time to talk with the child's family to let them know their 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? It's exciting and important to share the new skills a child is learning, but at the same time, it's just as important to ask about or mention any concerns you might be having as well. The goal of having this type of open discussion is to make sure the child's development is progressing appropriately and if not, to address any concerns as soon as they are recognized. Remember that a child's needs can, and most likely will, change over time. Be sure to set aside time to plan for and brainstorm how best to support the child's ongoing development. If something's not working any longer, tweak it or think about other options you could try. Reach out and work with the family to develop solutions that will best meet the child's needs and support their continued growth. Working with Families of Children with Special Needs Discussing Concerns We all know how hard it can be to bring up a concern or have a difficult conversation with a parent. This is where the hard work you put in to building a strong relationship with the family pays off. The family may still feel anxious, but will also understand and know that you have their child's best interest in mind. Choosing to put off sharing a concern because you are afraid of the conversation will end up hurting the child the most. Be honest, but empathetic. Strong relationships are built by people who care enough to share information (some of which may be difficult), but also care enough to listen and provide comfort. 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. Even though it can be difficult and possibly emotional, this type of meeting is important so that concerns can be shared openly and without distractions. Depending on the severity of the concerns you have, it might be necessary to find out what supports and services are available through other agencies, such as the Birth-to-3 program, Early Childhood Special Education, etc. Discussing these options can be overwhelming for the family, so make sure to be sensitive and aware of where the parents are emotionally in this process. Take the time to explain things and answer any questions that parents may have. 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. Communicating with Families Approaching a Difficult Situation (DCF Presentation) Resources - Communication and Family Engagement Partnering with Families of Children with Special Needs - NAEYC CONNECT Modules- Frank Porter Graham, North Carolina Module 3: Communication for Collaboration Module 4: Family-Professional Partnerships Policy Statement on Family Engagement: From the Early Years to the Early Grades - DOE and DHHS Wisconsin Statewide Parent Educator Initiative (WSPEI) - Family Engagement Relationship-based Competencies to Support Family Engagement - Head Start (Competency #2 - Culturally Responsive Relationships) 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 If you have questions or concerns about a child's development (physical, social-emotional, or cognitive), contact: Well Badger Resource Center (formerly First Step Wisconsin) at 1-800-642-7837. Information about Early Identification/Screening, Child Find and other early childhood topics can be found at the Collaborating Partners website.