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  • Writer's pictureRaelene Ostberg, M.Ed.

Collaborating with Families: It's All About Relationships!

Updated: Jan 30

In this resource blog, we explore the the ways to build partnerships between Early Childhood Educators and parents that last through concerns, conflicts, and challenging behaviors. What is helpful to consider when partnering with parents to educate and care for their child?

You will gather helpful information including:

From the Beginning, there is work to do.

Before a bond is formed with a family, there is naturally a bit of a wall up. The parent understandably has concerns about how their child will do in your care. Dr. Jerlean Daniels, in her podcast on this subject from Zero to Three, gave critical insight into this topic and ideas to help us succeed in this area. She shares that parents naturally wonder about how their child is doing and ask the questions:

  • Do you want to care for my child?

  • Will you love my child?

  • Will my child be safe?

  • What do you think of me?

  • Will you have empathy for my child, for me, and for my situation?

The main over-riding question they ask is:

According to Dr. Daniel, “How your actions answer these questions will affect the parent’s relationship with their child and their wellbeing… And their relationship and partnership with you."

When collaborating with the child's other caregivers, it is helpful to consider that each interaction has the potential to build the wall up between you or take a brick off. If we use enough positive communication and build the relationship (take away enough bricks), when concerns or challenges arise (bricks are added to the wall), the wall still will not divide us. Everyone remains committed to work together.

Over the course of nine years utilizing four home childcares and one center to help raise my own daughters, I chose to leave three of them. The childcare providing care and education for my daughters thought they knew why I left… They didn’t. Well, at least not the whole story. It is natural to want to avoid conflict and I am no different. The different reasons are shared in our Collaborating with Families Series and include the type of education, differences in values, inability to compromise and work together, and conflicts that went unresolved.

One reason. I was hoping she could do better than I could.

At pickup one day, my first childcare provider mentioned she had been to a training where they were talking about the importance of reading to babies. She left early. When I inquired as to why, she stated, “I know what babies need and you do not need to read to them. They need to be held and loved and that is what I focus on.” I was a bit perplexed and uncomfortable. I did not know a ton. But, I had actually heard at one point that you should read to infants.

*The reality was, when I dropped my 10-month-old off there, I was hoping she would do a better job with her than I could. I was often busy and distracted by life's stressors. Also, I found it difficult to be a caring and responsive mother as I had not received this type of care when I was little.

After this interaction, I started to wonder, is my daughter getting the best care she could be? Is she being set up for success in life like other babies? Is there a place that might be better for her?

I did not leave that day. But, this interaction put one major brick in the wall that would end up dividing us. This barrier would lead to the end of my investment in her program when I decided to move my 2.5 year old to a more “educational” setting that would ensure she got the education she needed. I wanted a childcare that cared about teaching too, not just the love and support part. In the end, that one interaction that, when placed on top of other disappointments, led to her needing to start over: interviewing, matching with, and acclimating a whole other child and family.

There are simple and important things early childhood educators can do to avoid a disconnect that results in the parents feeling the need to move on. During "It's All About Relationships!", we discuss numerous strategies! Here are three that will ensure parents are thrilled to bring their child to you for care, making an effort to work with, and keep them invested in your program.

1) Get to know the heart of what your parents are thinking, feeling, and needing from your care.

A. Ask about family goals right from the start. While working in Early Childhood Family Education classrooms, I devised a beginning of the year welcome survey. This valuable tool helped me understand what was important for each family. I was surprised how different each survey was! Ask yourself, what are some questions that help you understand what parents are looking for? This will also help you base some of your early positive communication around what is important to them. Some simple examples of questions:

  • What are your child's strengths?

  • Where would you like your child to grow and learn new skills?

  • What are your family's goals for your child in my care?

  • What would you hope your child will learn while here?

  • Which strategies have you found help your child do their best?

  • Do you have any concerns about leaving your child in a group setting?

  • What are your hopes and dreams for your child in our early childhood setting?

These questions will help educators get a clear idea about what the family cares about.

B. Make sure to take notes and report back about these items later, as you get to know the child and consider each family's goals.

"I remember it was important for your family that your child learn respectful manners while in our care. This week, we have been reading books about manners and using puppets to model saying please and thank you during playtime. At snack, we have been encouraging the children to use 'please' and 'thank you'. It is going well! Your child is getting more and more consistent using these words and getting excited about using these great manners!"

You can't read parents minds. But, a few insightful questions will give you key knowledge to ensure you are meeting the families needs and keeping them invested in your program!

2) Share the fun stories!

Remember, each family needs to hear more positive than negative (a ratio of at least five positives to one negative is recommended.) What did they do that you just loved? What made you laugh? What is special about their child? When did you notice their child really engaging (especially in the ways they had hoped)?

3) Consider the family and child when making choices about your day and communicate the positive results of these considerations.

  • “I know your toddler loves trucks so I brought out the bin of trucks today and read a book about trucks. You should have seen the smile on her face!"

  • “I totally get you both need to take turns picking up and do not always know who will do pickup ahead. It is so great that you can work together to make this work! I have been thinking that ______ and _____ might help! What do you think about this idea?”

  • “I remembered your family celebrates _____ which kicks off next week. Do you have any ideas or things that we could do to bring some of the magic to our classroom?”

In the end, knowing what each of your parents cares about and is looking for will help build the bridges, break down barriers, and form a partnership that thrives today, and well into the future.

To learn more and gain more tips and tools, check out the valuable resources before or join us for the live webinar series on this topic.

Thank you for tuning in! To learn more, check out

Raelene Ostberg, M.Ed.


Resources for Building Relationships with Families:

Dr. Jerlean Daniel's

*NAEYC Family Engagement Principles

A great free online training about getting families involved!

Getting Families Involved Best Practices Handout- Getting Families Involved (and building relationships!):

Article: Talking to families about challenging behavior

CICC Podcasts:

  • Partnering with Parents--Healthy and Supportive Boundaries

  • Partnering with Parents--Cultivating Relationship

  • Family & Caregiver Partnerships--Infants & Toddlers

  • Sharing Concerns with Families--Observations and Recordings: Part One

  • Sharing Concerns with Families--Setting the Stage: Part Two

  • Sharing Concerns with Families--Having the Conversation: Part Three

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