Finding the Uniqueness in Parents
Throw away the boxes
When we experience the privilege of working with children in Early Years, the individuality of children will almost always shine through. Observing children playing is so rewarding; watching their individual characters come to life, seeing their unique personalities blossom, and celebrating with them as they achieve a new milestone, are just some of the delights.
But what about seeing ‘parents’ blossom?
I am passionate about family life and have had the honour of working with many different families in a huge range of different circumstances. Whilst there is a need to refer to parents collectively for practical reasons, we can sometimes put people in a box that restricts who they are within a single category.
Personally, I don’t do boxes!
I think it holds people back … and when you put a lid on somebody, you limit their ability to fulfil their potential.
The parents I’ve worked with over the years have all had slightly different ways of doing things and plenty of different views, even when other similarities suggested they might be categorised together. On reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that the introduction of the term ‘Parent Partnership’, whilst a good concept, has at times taken away from the individuality of parents, with the education sector often referring to parents in a generic way, as if one size fits all.
For every parent we meet (birth or adopted, step or foster, grandparent or carer, etc.), their title or role is only ‘one aspect’ of who they are. Understandably, if you’re working in Early Years, you will be meeting people in their role as parents, but it’s incredibly helpful to view them through lenses that acknowledge their uniqueness.
A different reality
Sadly, my experience has all too often been one of hearing professionals speaking about parents in a critical or derogatory way, ‘tolerating’ the fact that they are meant to form Parent Partnerships, but doing this primarily to fulfil an Ofsted tick box.
Ironically, this approach results in practitioners missing out on the amazing resource of parents, full of variety and skills, that can transform the experience of working together. After all, the primary goal should be about giving our children the best start in life; surely this is better when we’re working together?
There are always going to be difficult personalities in all walks of life. Often, the time we encounter parents is at the most stressful pressure points in their day, namely ‘drop off’ and ‘pick up’ times. At this time, a parent is often transitioning from one role to the next, for example, from being a parent to being an employee. This can be a simple transition for some but an exhausting exercise for others. There can also be a host of historical, emotional and identity issues attached to what outwardly appears to be a normal, everyday experience of dropping off or picking up children.
Observe, identify and celebrate uniqueness
We, therefore, need to create opportunities to draw out the uniqueness of our parents and find ways to encourage them that we’re working ‘with’ them to create the best start for their child. Simple solutions could include intentionally providing opportunities for their views to be shared, or empowering them to know that they play a pivotal role in their child’s education and that they really do matter.
Personally, I like to take it one step further and look out for opportunities to encourage parents in a way that is unique to them and find qualities in them that can be drawn out.
It can take some getting used to, as people can be wary of compliments and encouragement but as you make it part of your practice, you soon discover a change in the culture of your setting. This can have a profound knock-on effect.
We all know that children mirror behaviour that is demonstrated, but adults will also. When you set a culture of encouragement and celebrate uniqueness, you’ll find it becomes contagious.
Parents that are experiencing better self-esteem and confidence will ultimately provide a framework for their children to excel in these enabling qualities.
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