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Tips for Navigating Conversations about Developmental Concerns

Educators and early learning providers spend a great deal of time with the children in their care. Because of this, they are often the first to notice differences in a child’s learning, growth, communication, or development. When this happens, it is important that we share our concerns with family members in a sensitive and respectful conversation that invites everyone to collaborate, with the shared goal of finding the path that will best support the child’s needs and progress. 

In this article, we share tips for approaching these conversations, as well as helpful resources for moving forward. 

The Educator’s Role

It is helpful to remember that all children grow and learn at their own pace, as we seek to support each child’s unique rate of development. However, even with this understanding, you might notice a child in your care struggling to complete certain tasks or master new skills, and suspect that there may be some cause for concern. 

In these situations, it is important that educators approach families with care, thoughtfulness, and sensitivity to explore possible ways to support their child’s needs. 

Initiating the Conversation

A brief from the California Department of Education notes, “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. Even when this relationship is in place, early learning and care providers still need to plan ahead about what to say about concerns for the child.” 

A few helpful tips for approaching these conversations are included below. 

Have Notes Prepared

Before having these conversations, it is important that you spend time documenting your observations and carefully collecting notes about the child. This will help the family members to get a better understanding of your concerns so they have a more complete picture of the child’s progress. 

Plan Ahead

Start by finding a date and time that works for both you and the family to have the conversation. If possible, it is best that all family members who help with parenting the child are in attendance so that everyone is a part of the discussion. This meeting should be held in a private location, away from other families. Make sure that you set aside enough time to talk about different options, and to enable the family to digest the information and raise any questions or concerns they might have. 

Before the meeting, take time to think about the purpose and desired outcomes from the discussion. For example, your objective might be to encourage the family to have their child screened so they can be informed about tools and resources available to support the child’s development. Ideally, the family will leave the meeting feeling good about the benefits of screening with the intention of getting the screening scheduled right away. 

 If you provide care in San Mateo County, you can seek input from Help Me Grow, an organization that offers free support for parents, family members and child care providers when there are questions or concerns about a child’s developmental progress. There is a section for providers on Help Me Grow’s website. Help Me Grow can be reached via call or text at (650) 762-6930 or by email at hmgsmc@abilitypath.org.

As you prepare, you might find this article from the G2K archives helpful: Tips to Prepare for and Approach Challenging Conversations with Parents

Highlight Strengths & Positives

When you are expressing concerns with a family member, it can be scary and emotional. This is why it is essential to start the conversation with positive observations about the child, such as how well they connect with other children, or how much you appreciate their happy spirit in your classroom. 

The California Department of Education advises that “some parents might worry that you are sharing concerns in order to remove their child from your program. It may be useful to start your sharing by saying, ‘We want to help your child be successful in our setting.’…it is helpful for early learning and care providers to let the family know that they share concerns for the child; that their intent is to support the child’s development.” 

Be Open to Differences of Opinion

As you go into this conversation, remember that some family members might not share the same concerns that you have. It is important that educators maintain a sense of openness when approaching these conversations. You can encourage parents to feel comfortable collaborating by asking questions about what the family observes at home and how the child likes to play. 

Next Steps for Parents

It’s important that families leave the conversation with information that they can use to help their child. When parents are concerned and unsure where to turn, the CDC recommends that parents reach out to the child’s pediatrician and ask for a developmental screening. 

Families in San Mateo County can also contact Help Me Grow with any questions. Help Me Grow also offers free online screenings, and provides support in many different languages. Help Me Grow can be reached via call or text at (650) 762-6930 or by email at hmgsmc@abilitypath.org

Additional Resources for Educators

If you are looking for more support or information on how to approach these conversations with families, you might find the following resources helpful: 

  •  Watch Me! Celebrating Milestones and Sharing Concerns: This free online training course from the CDC provides tools and best practices for monitoring the development of children in your care and talking about it with their parents. 

  • The CDC also has printouts about developmental milestones for every age and stage from 2 months until the age of 5.  You might want to share these with families when you meet with them. 

  • Tips for Talking with Parents about Developmental Concerns: This 2-page printable resource from the CDC is a quick and helpful reference for educators, which includes tips, resources, and suggestions for approaching conversations about development with families. 

  • For San Mateo County-based child care providers, the Help Me Grow website has a page dedicated to care providers, which shares information and local resources to help you support the needs of children and families in your care. Educators can also contact Help Me Grow San Mateo directly to discuss services to share with families.

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