Oliver’s mother calls you and tells you, with a shaky voice, that he’s been “kicked out” of his third child care center. The center director told her that his behavior has become “more than we can handle” and “a safety concern for the other children.” You’ve been working with this family for several months now on IFSP outcomes related to reducing Oliver’s acting out behavior and increasing his ability to communicate using words. You’ve been struggling because whenever you’ve tried to discuss positive discipline techniques and share other information about social emotional health, Oliver’s mother tells you that she doesn’t believe in disciplining her children. She wants them to grow up with freedom to become who they are and she feels that they will have their whole lives to have boundaries. At the same time, she needs for Oliver to attend child care while she works part-time.
What do you do?
How Can You Support Oliver’s Mom?
What do you do when there’s a difference between what you believe you know about child development and a parent’s beliefs and style of guiding his/her child’s social-emotional development? In Oliver’s scenario, it can feel like you are bumping up against a wall. You might think the “wall” is this difference between your beliefs and the parent’s beliefs, but really, the wall is probably your own approach to the situation. It can be very tempting to judge Oliver’s mother’s beliefs and think that she should be parenting differently, but we have to remember that it is not our role to judge her. We are there to provide support and share what we know about development in a way that supports her and Oliver. This usually requires lots of active listening, observation, collaborative problem-solving, and maybe most importantly, keeping an open mind. Instead of trying to change how Oliver’s mom thinks or “make” her see things our way, it can be helpful to step back and revisit our coaching skills to think about how we can provide the right kind of support.
Here are a few strategies to consider when preparing to support Oliver’s family:
Pause and Reflect – This is always the place to begin, especially when there is a disconnect between what you think and what the parent believes. It’s easy to imagine feeling frustrated and judgmental. Keep in mind that it’s your job to learn about Oliver’s family and how he behaves at home and at child care so that you can figure out how to support him and his caregivers in both environments. Sometimes, putting your feelings aside can help clear the way for progress.
Help her Reflect on her Goals – Check in with Oliver’s mother to find out how you can help and what she would like to see happen. Don’t take it for granted that you know these answers. Ask her what she thinks is contributing to Oliver’s struggles and what she thinks she can do at home to help him be more successful in child care. Find out about her goals and encourage her to voice them.
Ask about What She Knows about Discipline – Find out how she defines “discipline” and “boundaries.” Be sure that you both are speaking the same language. You could find out that “discipline” means spanking to her, and she is unwilling to spank. Get specific so that you both understand.
Provide Information Linked to her Goals – Share information about social emotional health and discipline techniques as they link to what’s important to Oliver’s mother. If she says she doesn’t agree or doesn’t want to use those techniques, ask if she’s open to trying something new. Her answer will inform you about whether or not this is an issue about which you can actually help her.
Consider this: you may not have all the information you need you figure out what to do next…
First, what questions arise for you? What else do you need to know??
Once you have all the info, consider:
Option 1: What would you do if Oliver’s mother says that she is not open to a new strategy?
Option 2: What would be your next move be if she replied that she did want to try something new?
How do you support a parent when his/her parenting style is different from what you know/believe about social emotional development?
Share your experiences in the comments below.