This blog was originally posted in 2015 and updated in September 2020.
By learning about and incorporating elements of home into children’s daily experiences educators assist the growth of a child’s sense of identity, belonging, and connectedness.
Knowing about a child’s world beyond the early learning service has another benefit; educators can support children and families when aspects of life change or become challenging.
Life is great and not so great
Lifestyles we lead develop and occur through conscious choice, or due to circumstances and necessities beyond anyone’s control.
Holidays, fly in fly out employment, military deployment, business trips, hospital stays, separation, or divorce are a part of life and for some, a part of everyday life. Each of these situations present positives and negatives, be they intended or unintended and might be affecting a child and their family … And sometimes, due to these particular circumstances and situations, children and their families need extra support from us.
What’s going on: How educators know
Early childhood educators will not always know about family circumstances. At different times, families can be more or less open about sharing details. That is OK. Generally, families will share what they deem essential, and more, when they feel safe to do so. The relationships and partnerships we develop with families can assist this.
However, sometimes we can only assume that families need support from our observations and our interactions with families and children.
The home environment, and the families that occupy them, play a primary role in the ongoing development of children and young people. Families can include parents, carers, grandparents and kin who care for a child.
Any educator in an early learning service or school needs to know how to work effectively, sensitively and confidentially with families (who can have a diversity of circumstances) to foster the mental health of children and young people. Be You Family partnerships domain can support educators with this professional learning.
The seven essentials for educators
1. Having a positive relationship helps
- Children and families share more about their life so educators are better able to notice when something in a child’s world is having a positive or negative impact
- it makes having conversations about issues with families easier
- positive relationships can grow into collaborative partnerships.
2. Document what causes you concern and what you observe
This helps reflective practice and if needed, offers a record of information in the future. The BETLS observation tool can support educator’s concerns and help approach families with documented observations on behaviour, emotions, thoughts, learning and social relationships.
3. Understand the role and related boundaries of an educator supporting children and families
Reflect on your level of knowledge about the issue and the situation and refer to service protocols and processes for recognising and responding when families seek support.
4. Assume nothing when identifying and responding to issues
Regular conversations between educators and families help everyone have a clear understanding of the issues and contribute to planning to seek early support. Building in practices to ensure the child’s voice is present is also valuable.
5. Use the Stop Reflect Act framework to guide the support you provide
The framework is a useful way to respond to questions from families about their child’s mental health and wellbeing. The framework requires you to:
stop before reacting to the situation
reflect and think about the situation and how you can move forward
act (after consultation with colleagues, if necessary).
6. Use collaborative partnerships to create plans to support children and families
In those fortunate situations where we can predict or prepare for future events or issues, plan with families:
- what educators, children and families can do in the lead up to the situation
- how to support children and families during an experience, e.g. times a parent or carer is away
- for the circumstances following an event, e.g. when a parent, carer or child returns home after being away.
7. Families, like children, need protective factors to support their well-being
There are risks involved in any situation, but it is about doing what we can to insert protective factors that minimise those risks. Some strategies educators can use include:
- providing opportunities for families to connect with other families informally
- using a variety of strategies to communicate information about support services in the wider community. Should families choose to access services, assist them where necessary, with the process
- continue working to establish and maintain working relationships and clear referral pathways with external support services
- remembering there are both positives and negatives in any situation. Identifying, acknowledging, and responding to difficulties is important, but so is working from strengths.
Children and families have unique needs, have to make sacrifices and overcome obstacles in their everyday life. For educators, it is important to understand that life circumstances can be challenging but that these same challenges can also highlight the strengths, courage, and resilience of children and families.
Be You provides educators with knowledge, resources and strategies for helping children and young people achieve their best possible mental health. This article was first published by KidsMatter (now known as Be You) in 2015.