The back-to-school transition means changes for both children and parents, whether it’s infant care or preschool. You may be meeting your children’s care providers and teachers for the first time, or reestablishing existing relationships. To ease this transition, we asked Jeanne Lovy, assistant vice president and director of Early Learning for the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston, to suggest ways to ensure a positive parent-teacher relationship.
What are the most important things parents can do to ensure a positive relationship with their child’s infant care provider?
The first step is to select an infant care provider and setting that you fully trust. Whether in a group setting, such as an early learning center, or a home setting, such as a family child care or your own home, the person taking care of your baby is part of the group of people that will come to know and care for your child the most. Babies need responsive, attentive and loving care, and you must be confident that your caregiver is able to provide this. Once you have found the right person and setting, it’s important to both talk and listen. You need to communicate as much as possible about what’s happening for your child at home. Parents sometimes conceal information, such as a bad night’s sleep or an upset stomach. This makes it more difficult for the provider to take care of your baby and be responsive to his or her needs. It’s also important to share how you comfort your baby when she’s upset. Does she prefer being held? Sung to? Cuddled? Distracted? Although your baby’s caregiver will develop his or her own strategies over time, it’s very useful to know what works at home.
Listening is important too. Ask questions about how the baby has done during the day. Most providers share the basics, such as times of feeding, sleeping and diaper changes, but you might also ask, “How did my baby react to being outside today?” or “What made him smile?” When you are facing a challenge at home, such as fussy behavior or difficulty introducing a new food, ask your caregiver for her advice. Sometimes she might have a perspective you hadn’t considered, or a valuable piece of wisdom that might help. And she will appreciate being consulted. By sharing information, listening to your provider’s observations and respecting your caregiver as a professional, you are building a strong relationship that will ensure your baby has the best “team” possible taking care of her.
How does this relationship change once the child progresses to preschool? What are some ways to encourage a smooth transition?
While talking and listening continue to be important, it’s also important to be aware of changing expectations in new classrooms and age groups as your child gets older. Some of the biggest changes from an infant class to a toddler class, or from toddler to preschool, have to do with the amount of independence children have and the types of self-help activities in which they are involved.
As you prepare for these transitions, you may notice that the teachers are helping children gain new skills, such as unpacking their own snacks, sleeping on a mat instead of in a crib, pouring milk from a small pitcher or putting on their own coats. In any developmentally appropriate child-care setting, children are supported on an individual level. If they move to the preschool room but can’t quite handle hanging up their coat yet, don’t worry. The classroom teachers will provide support until your child is ready. Children should never be made to feel bad about a skill they haven’t yet mastered. Most children exhibit a higher level of independence at school than they do at home. You may find yourself surprised at what they can handle. If you are unclear about what the expectations will be or how your child will handle them, please ask.
Another change in preschool classrooms is that parents may begin to have questions about traditional areas of learning, such as literacy and numeracy. Most high-quality early childhood settings understand skill development as individual and emergent—children are acquiring skills and knowledge in each year of their preschool development; not just in pre-kindergarten. Please ask about the learning and skill development you might expect in your child’s setting.
What are some things parents can do on a continuous basis to strengthen the parent-teacher relationship?
At every age group the hallmarks of a good relationship are trust, respect, appreciation and communication. Asking questions, listening to feedback, sharing information about your child and valuing your teacher as a professional with training and experience will go a long way. I believe that saying thank you is important as well. Parents can remember to appreciate the work the teacher is doing each and every day, and we as providers also need to remember to say thank you to parents for giving us the great honor and privilege of sharing their children with us.