ERIC Identifier: ED326324
Publication Date: 1990-00-00
Author: King, Margaret
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood
Education Urbana IL.
Working with Working Families. ERIC Digest.
Well over half the women with children younger than 6 are in the labor
force. This percentage has greatly affected the number of children who
are cared for outside the home by someone other than a parent and the way
in which caregivers and parents must interact. Research on parent involvement
suggests that parents should take active roles in their children's lives
while the children are enrolled in child care facilities and that parent
involvement enhances children's development.
In the past, it was easier for parents (usually mothers) to volunteer
for activities in preschools or attend meetings. But with many more women
in the work force and heading single-parent families, it is becoming difficult
for many parents to participate actively in child care programs. As a result,
some parents may see parent involvement in child care programs as an additional
pressure. To build positive relationships with parents, caregivers need
to gain a better understanding of the needs, concerns, and feelings of
Employed parents have different needs than parents who are not working.
Several factors--including competition, guilt, and time--may affect the
relationship between an employed parent and a caregiver. The parents may
feel they are competing with the caregiver for the child's affection, since
both parent and caregiver have formed protective attachments to the child.
For example, the mother of one 10-month-old was concerned that the child
might take her first steps in the presence of the child care worker instead
of the mother. Likewise, a father became concerned at the end of the day
when he asked his child to get ready to go home, and the child protested
by saying, "I don't want to go home." In reality, the child was just showing
frustration at being separated from dad all day. Situations like these
can strain the relationships between parents and child care workers.
Guilt is another feeling that employed parents experience. They may
feel that they are abandoning their children by leaving them while they
work. Children often contribute to their parents' guilty feelings by expressing
their dislike of the parents' leaving. Children sometimes show anger by
crying and yelling at their parents when it is time to separate. Children
may say, "I don't want you to go to work," "Why do you have to go to work?"
or "I don't like my school." It is often hard for parents to explain to
their preschool children why they are working and why they must leave them.
On the other hand, parents sometimes feel even more guilty when their children
do not protest.
Time is also a critical factor. Employed parents may feel that they
have many roles and duties to perform but not enough time to perform them.
Consequently, they often feel overwhelmed. Employed parents place their
children in child care facilities because they are not available to care
for the children themselves. Parents who work 40 or more hours a week may
feel that they do not have time to volunteer in the center or come in to
observe for an hour. The lack of time may intensify the parents' feelings
of guilt and competition.
INVOLVING EMPLOYED PARENTS
The child care center and family day home must use a variety of methods
to encourage parents to participate. Employed parents need many options
to choose from if they are to become active participants in the child care
Remember, not all parents will take advantage of every opportunity.
However, child care programs must continue to support families and the
ties between parents and children by allowing the parents to make decisions
about how much involvement and which experiences and activities meet their
needs. A child care service can support the relationship between parent
and child through flexible scheduling, parent visits, parent education,
formal and informal communication, and informal gatherings.
FLEXIBLE SCHEDULING. Many child care centers and preschools have a specific
time when all children must be present. Parents need the flexibility to
bring children when they choose. Field trips and lunch are exceptions to
this principle. However, if a parent can inform the staff of the child's
arrival time, plans can be adjusted accordingly.
Flexibility may allow a parent to spend a morning with the child if
the parent doesn't have to be at work until noon on a certain day. For
example, Jessica's dad doesn't have to be at work until 10:30 a.m. on Wednesdays
because he works late on Tuesdays. So Jessica and her dad do something
special, such as jogging in the park. Flexibility also makes it easier
if parents are divorced and the child stays overnight with the noncustodial
parent. Sometimes an extra hour in the morning gives the parent an opportunity
to spend additional time with the child. The extra time with a parent may
be more important than the fingerpaint activity planned by the caregiver.
This type of flexibility does not mean that parents can have a drop-in
arrangement every day. Routines are important to a child's sense of security
and well-being. It also does not mean that parents are given reduced rates.
Instead, parents and caregivers can work together to decide how to give
parents the flexibility they may need.
PARENT VISITS. Parents should have open access to a facility, and visit
whenever they wish. One option is to invite parents as special guests who
demonstrate their talents. Parents can also be encouraged to visit as a
way of spending time with their children. Parents can come by at noon and
take their children out to lunch. In infant and toddler programs, parents
often come to the child care facility to feed their babies during the lunch
hour. For older preschoolers, lunch can be a special treat, as long as
they understand that they won't leave when their parents leave. Sometimes
parents may have other hours in the day that they would like to spend with
their children. A father who finishes a business errand sooner than expected
may want to sit in the room and read a story to his child or help the child
complete a puzzle.
PARENT EDUCATION. Child care centers and family day homes can offer
parents information on topics such as family time management, child development,
nutrition, safety, and parent-child communication. Employed parents may
not want to come back to a night meeting after they pick up their children
in the evening. Facilities can plan programs for various times. Brown bag
lunches may be best for some parents, while after-work potlucks or dinner
meetings with child care providers may be better for others. Some may prefer
early breakfast meetings. Whatever arrangements are made, child care facilities
can continue to make information available through newsletters, parent
bulletin boards, and communication at arrival and departure times.
INFORMAL COMMUNICATION. Daily communication between parents and caregivers
is essential. Caregivers need to talk with parents as they arrive and depart.
Information about a child's time away from the center and behavior in the
center can be exchanged. In sharing information, the caregiver and parent
can begin to develop an understanding of each other's goals for the child.
One excellent method, especially with infants and toddlers, is for caregivers
to send home a daily information sheet so that parents have some information
about what the child did during the day. Parents are interested in what
their children are like when they are not with them. On a half sheet of
paper, write the child's name, eating pattern, toileting behavior, playmates,
and comments about activities in which the child has participated. The
daily information sheets should not replace personal contact with parents
at the end of the day. Caregivers should make sure they have at least one
positive statement about each child that they can share with the parent
at the end of the day.
FORMAL COMMUNICATION. Home visits are another important, but rarely
used, communication tool. Caregivers should try to visit children's homes
at least once a year. A parent is often able to talk more easily when the
caregiver is on the parent's turf. Caregivers can learn about the parent's
child rearing practices. Parent-teacher conferences are still a must in
centers and homes. These conferences provide an opportunity for parents
and caregivers to interact. Since a conference provides a sharing of information,
the caregiver must be prepared to receive and to give information.
INFORMAL GATHERINGS. Planning opportunities for parents, staff, and
children to interact informally is also important. Examples include a Saturday
carnival in the spring or fall, an afternoon at the pool, a potluck supper,
or an afternoon at the skating rink. As parents become acquainted, they
can turn to each other for support.
Understanding and responding to the needs of working parents is necessary
to maintaining healthy communication between parents and caregivers. A
positive relationship between parents and the child care staff will bring
rich rewards in the child's development.
The article was adapted from "Working with Working Families," TEXAS
CHILD CARE QUARTERLY (Fall 1989): 3-8.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Berger, E. Parents as Partners in Education. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill
Honig, A. Parent Involvement in Early Childhood Education. Washington,
D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1979.
King, M. "Involving Parents: A Key to Successful Child Care," Child
Care Professional (June 1987).
King, M. "Working with Working Families," Texas Child Care Quarterly
(Fall 1989): 3-8.