By Aubree Huso
The VIVA Minneapolis Idea Exchange I participated in earlier this year revolved around how to address student behavior, which falls under the responsibility of the community as well as the schools. The issue goes beyond just classroom teachers, beyond parents, beyond administrators, beyond students. It’s more than any one of those pieces on its own. With that said though, parents are one, if not the most important, piece of a child’s life and education.
As an early childhood educator, my work revolves around parent education and home visits. Positive, healthy habits first start in the home, and the best way to support the child is by supporting the parent. I see parents when things are going well and when there are struggles. My presence alone is not an indicator that something’s wrong. My presence is normal; I’m part of the team and support system.
I currently work on a research project with the University of Minnesota. The aim of the study is healthy growth in children and families in relation to behavior and obesity outcomes. Taking our cue from Minnesota’s Early Childhood Family Education program, our study involves monthly home visits and weekly parenting classes as the two dominant intervention tools to achieve healthy growth. Those two components are designed to be synergistic; their combined effect on parent and child behavior change is stronger than each individual unit by itself.
In our study, we cover child development, nutrition and positive parenting behaviors through home visits and parenting classes. We build relationships with the parents, enhance motivation for target behavior and home environment changes, and facilitate goal setting and skills development in a way that fits within each individual family’s home environment and circumstances. We’ll follow the families for three years, disseminate information about long-term engagement of parents around obesity and healthy growth, and connect our findings with broader whole child health and development goals that are of high concern among parents of preschool children.
One answer for managing student behavior is right there. Addressing just the child, parent, or teacher doesn’t work. You have to reach all of them. As a home visitor, I’ve been the liaison between the child, family and the school. I’ve been the connecting piece between them. I’ve see the child both at home and at school. I’ve been the one in consistent, frequent contact with both the teacher and the family throughout the entire school year, not just during parent-teacher conferences.
Why do we need home visits and parent education?
Who explains child development and age-appropriate expectations to parents? I do. Who explains the connection between learning and play to parents? I do. Who helps them get appropriate, positive and effective discipline (not punishment) established in the home? I do. Who decides what the best action is to take and how to take that action? Parents do. My role is to support not to control. I offer suggestions with their permission. We work in collaboration.
The role parents play is just as important as the one I do. Parents drive what we talk about; our conversations are tailored to their goals and values. My input is tailored to the support what they need when they need it. I don’t go into their homes to tell them they’re wrong; it’s not about that. I see their strengths and we capitalize on them. I recognize them as the expert on their own children. I recognize they are often doing the best they can with what they have at that time, and that’s really all I can ask of them. Because this type of support system ends once children enter kindergarten, they oftentimes have a stronger relationship with me than they do any classroom teacher. I am the missing link in the K-12 system.
It never fails that parents ask me for support with their school-aged children. Why would I stop offering parenting support the way that I do simply because a child is now in kindergarten? How would the information we’re covering in my current work not be applicable in the K-12 system? It’s not a silver bullet by any means, but the collaboration, respect and teamwork that develops between the school and the family as a result of the parenting support offered through home visits and parent education is something than cannot to be ignored.
Children grow and develop within the context of the community. As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.” So why is it that this concept seems to be lost once children enter kindergarten? Parents don’t stop needing support once their children are five. Parenting is for life and every day brings new challenges. Teachers need to know the parents have their backs as well. We get nowhere when those two parties undermine each other. As a mom and an educator, I know the joys and difficulties of both sides. I know what’s going on developmentally with my two year old because of my education. Even still, I’m not an expert. I still need support.
Not every parent has access to the resources that I do, and the support that is available through home visits and parent education can’t be substituted by just reading a parenting book. My work cannot reach everyone, mainly because of the challenging fact that it really just doesn’t exist past the fifth birthday. What we need to do is ensure more parents get the support they need, when they need it, and in the way they need it.