Parents and families have the most direct and lasting impact on children's learning and development of social competence. When parents are involved, students achieve more, exhibit more positive attitudes and behavior, and feel more comfortable in new settings. Early childhood providers need to reach out to families in order to build the kind of relationships that engage them as active partners early in their children's education (National Dropout Prevention Center/Network, 2003).
Families are crucial partners in promoting positive social skills. Home visits, parent visitation to child care or school setting, telephone conversations, newsletters, informal notes, bulletin boards, workshops, and regular face-to-face communication can be used to keep families informed about the specific social skills being focused on in the early childhood setting and for care providers to learn about what families are doing at home.
If guidance strategies are to be truly effective, parent involvement and support are crucial. Early care providers need to engage parents as soon as their child is enrolled in the program and ask for assistance in understanding the child's background and the family's goals for the child. Sensitivity to family and cultural differences is crucial and can be heightened by the care provider's ability to listen and encourage communication. Acceptance of differences in families is essential for each child and parent to feel a sense of belonging in early childhood programs. Mutual respect, cooperation, shared responsibility, and negotiation of differences in opinion between parents and care and education professionals are necessary to achieve shared goals related to the guidance and education of young children.
According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (1998) Code of Ethical Conduct, professionals' ethical responsibilities to families most related to guidance strategies include:
- Develop relationships of mutual trust with families we serve
- Acknowledge and build upon strengths and competencies as we support families in their task of nurturing children
- Respect the dignity of each family and its culture, language, customs, and beliefs
- Respect families' child-rearing values and their right to make decisions for their children
- Help family members improve their understanding of their children and enhance their skills as parents
As our nation's population becomes more and more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, and language, early child care providers may need to learn about cultures and family child-raising styles that are different from their own. Families participating in their programs can help them do so. Parents become a respected source of information and are accorded another meaningful role in their child's education. Establishing dialogue and trust is the first step in this process and should include: expressing a desire to learn from the parent, asking for parents' opinions, discussing ways to support the family's values and customs, and acknowledging that there are many points of view on a topic (Sturm, 2003).
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