Positive Parental Partnerships: Speech
Working effectively with parents* is an essential part of being a practitioner. The daily interactions with parents can often be rushed, but it is important to make time for all parents, especially those with children who have additional needs.
For parents who have children with additional needs, sometimes can be challenging, frustrating and overwhelming. Practitioners should be mindful of how parents are likely to be feeling and work with them in a sensitive and empathic manner. Situations involving delays with communication can be particularly exhausting for parents.
Failure to communicate can be extremely frustrating for all involved, parents and children alike. The most productive way to help children with speech and language difficulties is to expose them to the same methods at nursery and at home. In order to open up a dialogue with parents about the needs of their child, positive relationships need to be formed.
Below are important factors to consider when working with parents to develop the speech and language skills of their child.
When building relationships with parents, first impressions count. All new and prospective parents should be greeted in a warm and welcoming manner, with introductions to key workers being made. Even during a viewing, parents should be introduced to all staff members in the room that their child would be entering. The attitudes, manners and demeanour of staff all play an important part.
Practitioners should feel confident talking to parents about their roles, practice, and routines. For more timid practitioners, training and support should be given to grow their confidence with greeting and talking to parents.
Before a child officially starts at nursery, an opportunity should be given for a ‘settling in’ session with parents present. This allows parents to properly meet their child’s key worker and share valuable information about their child to the practitioner. This also provides parents with a chance to ask any unanswered questions they may have about nursery routines or policies.
When establishing relationships, it is important to set clear expectations between parents and practitioners. While parents need to feel reassured that practitioners will go above and beyond for their child, they must also understand their child will not receive any special treatment, respecting the boundaries present in a nursery. For example, practitioners will not be expected to babysit or take children home.
Practitioners should also make it clear to parents how much they are expected to be involved in their child’s learning. Giving feedback about their achievements at home, attending parent-practitioner meetings and regularly discussing the child’s development would all be expected of all parents.
Having these expectations in place early on makes it easier to discuss additional needs with parents later. They will respect the role of a key worker and appreciate their input when given.
Some families join a nursery and will already be aware of any communication needs their child may have. For others, their children start in a setting before they learn to talk, so issues do not appear until later on. Staff need to be properly trained to identify any early signs of speech and language impairments. This allows open discussions to be had with parents without delay. Early identification is key when managing any additional needs. The earlier that techniques and extra support can be given the better.
To be told your child may need extra support with their development is not an easy thing for any parent to hear. What makes it easier is hearing it from someone that they already have a positive relationship with and that they respect; their child’s key worker. This is why establishing bonds with parents from the start is so vital.
Practitioners should be able to deliver updates on children’s learning, addressing sensitive issues with discretion and optimism. Explaining to parents how their child is struggling will do no good on its own, practitioners also need to provide next steps. For example, “(child) is not combining as many words as we would expect for her age. Moving forward will be implementing x, y and z to support her development and will perform more frequent assessments to monitor her learning.”
Hearing solutions from practitioners that are always planning ahead helps to keep parents motivated and positive. Giving them the chance to ask any questions and making time to speak with them regularly is strongly recommended.
Children are more likely to achieve their goals when parents and practitioners work together, sharing ideas, updates and opinions. There are many techniques practitioners can share to assist with developing communication skills. Every situation is unique and what works for one, may not work for another. However, here are some suggested methods that key workers can share with parents to improve speech and language:
- Removing dummies: using dummies long-term can affect teeth positioning and growth, impacting speech.
- Makaton: parents can learn simple Makaton signs to communicate with their child. They should be informed that the signs are used alongside speech, not as a replacement for speech.
- Visual cards: practitioners often use visual communication cards to represent items and daily routines (snack, nappy, wash hands, play, garden, etc). These cards can be copied and given to parents to use at home.
- Echoing: repeating words and phrases back to children demonstrates correct pronunciations.
- Talk, talk, talk: children learn what they are exposed to, the more words they hear, the more words they will learn.
- Contexts: many words sound the same but have different meanings, so explaining the context of words helps with understanding. Children should learn new words along with their meanings and variations. For example, ate and eight; to, two and too; one and won, etc.
- Hearing: some children appear to lack understanding, when in actuality, they have a hearing impairment. Encourage parents to have their child’s hearing tested.
Practitioners should provide parents with frequent reassurance. Making time to talk with them and checking in regularly goes a long way. Progress can often feel slow, leading to frustrated parents. Let them know they are doing a brilliant job and recognise the hard work they are doing. They will appreciate it and feel motivated to carry on.
Having the positive relationship, the open dialogue and sharing of information is all best practice, but often it isn’t enough and external support may be needed. Again, this can be overwhelming for parents, but they should be assured that additional support from speech and language experts is best for their child. Practitioners can also explain the process of how external agencies are involved, making it easier for parents to digest.
Usually, external agencies perform similar roles to that of a practitioner, just more specialised. They will visit the child for regular assessments, provide more specific techniques and set suitable targets, also liaising with parents. Once parents realise this, they are likely to feel more positive about their situation and their child’s future.
*in the interest of this article, the term parent refers to all carers and guardians of children.