Strengthen a parent… and you strengthen a child

Hedda SharapanI just talked with a mother who told me how much she appreciates her daughter’s early childhood teacher – and she wasn’t just talking about the way her child is growing and learning. She was talking about the support, strategies, resources and advice she’s getting for her parenting -- when to shift from a bottle to a sippy cup, what to do about biting or tantrums, how to deal with nightmares, etc. That’s such a helpful part of this partnership between parents and professionals. It can be a great feeling to know how much you've strengthened a family.

Empathy and Support

Fred Rogers believed in the saying “Strengthen a parent and you strengthen a child,“ and he modeled that whenever he could. Over the years as I worked closely with him on the viewer mail, his books and other resources, I came to understand what’s really important in communicating with parents – start with empathy before you can get to the “helpful hints.“

A DVD Resource for Parents

So when we created our new DVD “When Your Baby Cries...ways to soothe your baby," we kept empathy first and then offered support for parents.This is a resource for new parents that we produced in collaboration with Dr. Mary Carrasco, a nationally-known public health pediatrician who’s greatly concerned about child abuse and especially what’s been known as “shaken baby syndrome.”

Sometimes it can be a real challenge to know how best to support parents. I often hear that the parents who need help the most can be the hardest to reach. We all recognize there are tensions in the relationship with parents, more with some than others. That’s where relationship-building comes in -- to help them feel comfortable asking you or even accepting your ideas.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re working on building a relationship with parents:

Take time to listen

It can be hard to find the time to listen, but that’s the place where relationships begin. Listening is such an important way to say, “I care about you.”

Offer empathy

I know you hear this over and over again, but parents really are stressed and stretched these days. Parents need to be assured that they’re doing the best they can with what they have.

Find ways to be supportive

It can be so helpful to parents to know they’re not alone and that others are struggling with the same issues. Let them know it’s okay to ask for help. Asking for help is a sign of strength - not weakness. You might want to suggest some resources, like books, pamphlets, DVD’s or information about agencies that deal with their concerns.

Be patient

Change is hard. And change takes time. Even when we learn about new ways, it takes time to absorb new information and to make it our own.

Remember too, that no matter what that parent seems like to you, to his or her child that person is the most beautiful -- and most important -- person in the world. So when you help parents, you’re helping their children as well.

P.S. Through the generous grant from the Staunton Farm Foundation, the “When Your Baby Cries” DVD will be given free to all new parents of every baby born at delivering hospitals in Allegheny County (PA) this year.

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