I will admit it. When I see a friend whose toddler is rocking the paci all day every day, I struggle not to judge. This, from a mom whose 7-year-old climbs in her bed with her each night. Parenting is a series of tough choices, choosing the battles worthy of fighting and those you can win, all while under the scrutiny of others like me who feel so strongly about the evidence regarding what is best for young children. When I see a young child at the store at night, my first thought is, “oh, poor little guy, should be home in bed.” And then I check myself. I have no idea what that child’s day is like regarding schedule, family routines or priorities. I know I am not alone, though. I know there are many of us who struggle to honor families who make choices contradictory to what we believe to be best for young children.
Check Your Biases
There are many “hot topics” in parenting and early childhood development. It’s arguably the period of development best supported by research and most flooded with tips and tools for navigating. Popular sites like Babycenter cover all these topics including sleep, feeding, potty training, play, technology, and behavior with listicles for solving all your parenting struggles. As early interventionists, we are only one source of parenting support, and we may not always be able to compete with grandma, environment, and the internet. So, how do we strive to honor families who make child rearing choices in conflict with our professional beliefs? I have developed my own listicle to add to the mix!
- Check Your Biases. Is this a safety issue? If the answer is no, consider your biases. We hold our professional beliefs dear, as we should! However, truly family centered practices build on family strengths and priorities. If the 2-year-old’s pacifier is not a priority or concern for the family, it does not need to be one for us either.
- Understand The Why. Talking with families about what motivates their decision making provides us with insight into why others do what they do. Why does the family choose co-sleeping? Are there enough sleeping spaces in the house for all family members? Is co-sleeping standard practices in the family’s culture? Listening first allows us to present the facts in a way that may support the family need while also addressing the concern, particularly if it is a safety concern.
- Broaden Your Lens. There is no one right way. Truly family centered practices trust families to be the expert on their own needs which simultaneously requires professionals to follow families’ leads. If we approach each unique family with our own narrow lens for what is best, we miss the opportunities each family presents to problem solve together, to extend our views, and to find strategies that work.
I know it isn’t easy. I know our professional and personal experiences have led us to these beliefs for good reasons, with a grounding in evidence and in best practices. The challenge, then, is in how we make ourselves available for the beliefs of the family, particularly when they are contradictory to our own.
How do you honor families in your work who make choices that conflict with what you know to be true?
For more info on this topic, be sure to watch Jen’s archived webinar, Unpacking our Biases in Early Intervention, on the Virginia Early Intervention Professional Development Center’s 2017 Talks on Tuesdays Recordings page.
Jen Newton is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood/Early Childhood Special Education in the School of Education at Saint Louis University. She worked as an early interventionist with infants and toddlers with disabilities or at risk for school failure in home settings before entering the classroom as an inclusive prekindergarten teacher in North Carolina’s More At Four program and later as a parent educator on an Early Reading First grant. She earned a doctorate in Special Education from the University of Kansas in 2011 and spent four years preparing inclusive educators at James Madison University prior to joining faculty at SLU. Her research examines inclusive teaching and learning, early childhood teacher preparation, and university/school partnerships.