Between the ages of 0 and 5, children undergo what is probably the most magical and transformative period of their lives. To develop cognitively, socially, and emotionally, exploration and discovery are essential. Children thrive on a daily diet of hands-on, play-based experiences against a backdrop of positive relationships with adults, regular interaction with peers, and a rich, stimulating environment.
A consistent approach is key, not just to behaviour, but also to ensuring children feel secure and nurtured. When experiences and expectations at home mirror those in our settings, we increase the likelihood of successful outcomes for our youngsters. So, it’s in all our interests to pursue a coherent approach to family engagement, particularly about behaviour.
The vital role of parents and carers
As educators, many families tell us that they struggle with their child’s behaviour, and we often give advice, tell them what we do in our settings, and share lists of strategies for them to try at home. But this approach, while being well-intentioned, can feel very ‘done to’ rather than ‘done with’ to families.
Instead, true family engagement involves listening to parents and carers to understand the behaviours they are seeing, and their family situation. We can look holistically at the child together with them, both in our settings and at home, rather than seeing these as separate things. The challenge for us as practitioners is, how can we most effectively support families with behaviour so their child can thrive both at home and in our settings.
We also need to be open to learning from parents and carers, rather than assuming we have all the answers when considering strategies to support behaviour. We can share approaches and ideas and adopt a puzzle-solving approach to behaviour, where we are curious, try things out, and find what works for this child, in an ever-evolving process.
Bridging the gap
We all have the children’s best interests at heart; however, there can sometimes be a disconnect between home and our settings regarding behaviour. To bridge this gap, we need to acknowledge and understand any potential barriers and work with families to understand them.
For many parents and carers, handing over the care of their child to another person can be both daunting and challenging. They may feel anxious about how their child will respond in a new setting and some of that anxiety may rub off on the child. For children with diagnosed or suspected additional needs and disabilities, there are often additional concerns about whether a setting will be able to support their needs. We also need to be mindful of the fact that some parents and carers will have had prior experiences themselves, which can affect their responses to our expectations and initiatives around behaviour.
Parents and carers can also hold widely different views about behaviour. What is acceptable to one family might be wholly unacceptable to another. We therefore need to reflect on the reasons that underpin individuals’ differing perspectives and see different options and positive approaches as choices available to us rather than try to implement a one-size-fits-all ‘solution’.
Practical ideas for building family engagement around behaviour
To create strong, long-lasting relationships with our families, we need to develop effective, positive, and inclusive strategies around behaviour. These 5 suggestions are a useful starting point for framing internal discussions between leaders and practitioners, and can help drive future action planning:
1: Keep an open mind
It’s important not to make any assumptions about the support that parents and carers want or need. By taking the time to see behaviour through their lens and find ongoing ways to collate their views and opinions, we can ensure we are engaging in ways that are timely and appropriate.
2: Extend our reach
Sometimes, even the most effective engagement strategies are only partially successful because they do not reach all families. For example, arranging coffee mornings or drop-ins may suit some people, but others might miss out due to work or other commitments.
Taking a creative and curious approach can be helpful. Who are the ‘hard to reach’ families and what could we do to remove existing barriers? This might involve getting out into the community more regularly, looking at ways technology could support, and offering alternative times for drop-in sessions.
3: Consider our local context
All contexts and communities are different, and as such, will require a bespoke approach to family engagement. For example, if language is a barrier to communication, how could we engage with families in their first language? Do some families have limited access to technology, resulting in them being unable to access our initiatives? By taking our families’ social, economic, and cultural backgrounds into account, we can devise the best strategies for supporting behaviour.
4: Share our approach to behaviour
Approaches to behaviour have evolved over the years, and we must keep parents and carers informed about our strategies and ethos. When families are clear about why we do things, not just what we do, they are more likely to engage with and support us.
This was one of the underpinning ideas when we created the Team Teach Family Engagement Training course because we recognised that our approaches to behaviour support also need to be shared with and understood by families for them to be most effective.
5: Work as a team
Parents and carers know their children better than anyone else, so by tapping into each other’s expertise and experience, we can collaborate to find strategies that work for all of us. This is especially important when we consider families that are involved in multi-agency support and receiving guidance from several professionals; there is a risk that they might become overwhelmed by conflicting perspectives. In such cases, a coherent, strategic approach is essential.
A golden opportunity
Fuelled by curiosity, compassion, and connection, we have a golden opportunity to examine and improve our approaches to family engagement around behaviour. By taking a joined-up, unified approach, we can empower families to understand and support their child’s behaviour, helping them to become resilient, happy, and healthy individuals.
Consistency is a key component of understanding and responding to behaviour, so by fostering strong home links based on mutual trust and respect, early years settings and families can work in harmony to ensure the best outcomes for every child.