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Partnering with Parents to Address Developmental Concerns in Young Children

Aug 15, 2023    |   Family EngagementPrintables for Educators
preschool teacher and toddler parent discuss developmental concerns

As early care & learning professionals, we know that when a child has developmental delays, early identification can improve the child’s treatment and outcomes. Yet, when we do have concerns about a child’s developmental progress, we can find it difficult to share our observations with the child’s parents because we don’t want to upset parents or cause them unnecessary concern. In this article, we share approaches to communication with parents that can help establish and preserve a relationship of mutual trust during conversations about difficult topics. 

Put Relationships at the Center of Your Program’s Mission

When families and child care providers work together, everyone wins– especially the child. Even brief, daily conversations during drop-off or pick-up can contribute to a sense of mutual trust and partnership. Your interaction can be a welcoming morning greeting and inquiry about how the child is doing, or an end-of-day story about something the child learned or enjoyed doing that day. Frequent communication helps parents and educators understand one another, and helps to create consistency for the little ones in our care. 

This foundation of trust will help pave the way for productive conversations about tough topics like developmental concerns. As the California Department of Education website explains, “Communicating concerns about a child to the family is often a difficult step. Success is more likely if this step is taken within an already-existing relationship that is built on trust and respect.”

Share Information about Developmental Milestones with Parents 

Sharing general information about developmental milestones with families on an ongoing basis provides the family with insight about their child’s behavior and development. An awareness of how children learn new skills makes it less likely that parents will be caught off guard by questions or observations about their child’s development. 

Good2Know Network recently put together a series of twelve developmental milestone printables (in both English and Spanish) listing milestones that are typical for a child at various ages between 2-months and 5-years old. The printables also suggest songs, verbal interactions, and fun activities that adults can engage in with children to support development at each age. You can post the printables in your classroom, share the print-outs with parents, or email the printables to parents as part of other email notifications. newsletter or other email notification or email them to parents or post them in your classroom. You might start by sharing the milestones associated with the child’s current age, as well as the milestones for a few months younger and older, and then update them throughout the year.

Preparing for a Conversation about Developmental Concerns

Sometimes child care providers hesitate to share concerns with families because they fear that their relationship with the families might be damaged. Although it is possible that a parent will react to the provider’s observations by worrying that there is something “wrong” with their child’s overall health, sharing all relevant information with parents allows them to be well-informed about their child’s development. The key thing for child care providers and parents to keep in mind is that they are working together in partnership to benefit the child’s overall wellbeing. 

In preparation for the meeting with parents, you’ll want to gather information about options for connecting with additional resources, if parents are interested in doing that. The meeting will be an opportunity to remind parents to ask their pediatrician about getting regular developmental screenings, and to reassure them that screenings are a helpful opportunity for learning about what their child is especially good at, and highlighting some areas that could use some additional gentle support. In fact, regular screenings are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics to support healthy developmental progress. 

You can find more detailed suggestions for planning these types of conversations in G2K’s article, Tips for Navigating Conversations about Developmental Concerns.

A Helpful Resource for Your Classroom or Program

Good2Know Network has created a one-page summary (in English and Spanish) with tips for establishing trusting relationships with families and for keeping families informed about early development and developmental concerns.

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