Helping parents to make their own decisions

It’s tempting to tell parents what to do when they have a problem. It might seem like the quickest way to reach a solution. But all families are different and unique, and what works for one might not work for another. There’s no one right way to do things.

That’s why it’s important to help parents by giving them the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to make decisions that suit their individual family circumstances. A family-centred approach can help you do this.

The best way to help families is through partnerships with parents, because parents know their children best. That’s why it’s important to build partnerships with parents. You can build partnerships with effective communication and a genuine desire to help.

A family-centred approach: what is it?

A family-centred approach is a way of working in partnership with families to better understand their unique circumstances and to help parents decide what strategies will best suit their families.

This approach is increasingly recognised as an effective way to improve outcomes for families. And it works across a wide range of human services.

A family-centred approach has some basic principles:

  • All families are different, and support works best when you understand each family’s individual goals, expectations, values and everyday life.
  • Parents always know their children and their family best.
  • All families have strengths, and we learn and grow best when we use our strengths.
  • Children’s wellbeing and development depends on the wellbeing of all other family members and of the family as a whole.
  • Family wellbeing depends on the quality of informal social supports and the availability of formal support services.

When you use a family-centred approach, you’re better equipped to develop strategies that are tailored to individual families. This means strategies are more likely to make family lives easier, to address particular family problems, and to create the best environment for children’s health, development and wellbeing.

Using a family-centred approach

You can use a family-centred approach in the way you work with families overall, the way you support children, and the way you support parents. Here are some ideas.

Your work with families

  • Try to be sensitive and responsive to different kinds of families, including those from socioeconomically diverse backgrounds and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. This might mean offering services that are available in different languages, are free to use and so on.
  • Base services on what families want. The best way to learn what they want is to ask. For example, if a parent says that they want more time with their child, you can suggest services with plenty of parent-child interaction.
  • Be flexible in how you provide services, thinking about what’s most useful to each individual family. For example, some families might like face-to-face support, while others might prefer online support.
  • Work with families to build a network of informal or community supports and resources. For example, if you connect new parents with a new parents group, they might need less formal support.
  • Build your connections with other mainstream and specialist child and family services so you know where to point families.

The way you support children

  • Work with families to surround children with secure and loving relationships – at home and in the community. You can start with your own respectful relationship with parents. Children will learn from your interactions.
  • Ensure health, safety and good nutrition for children.
  • Look out for and respond to children’s cues and clues.
  • Use the strengths and interests of each child as the foundation for learning. For example, if a child likes to sing, you can teach in songs.
  • Surround children with language. You can use books, music, storytelling and so on.
  • Encourage exploration and play.

raisingchildren.net.au has a comprehensive range of articles, videos and other content on children’s relationships, health, safety, nutrition, learning, development, play, sleep and more.

The way you support parents

  • Be reliable, and follow through with your commitments to parents. For example, if you say you’ll phone or visit at a certain time, make sure you do.
  • Try not to make assumptions about what parents ‘need to know’. Each family has different needs. Discuss with parents their goals and what sort of information they’re looking for.
  • Listen to parents carefully when they ask questions. Acknowledge that parents can feel very anxious when they don’t know something, especially if it relates to their child’s health or wellbeing.
  • Provide support without judging. For example, instead of saying ‘You shouldn’t yell at Tommy when he doesn’t listen’, you can say ‘I understand that you’re tired and this can make it harder to be patient. Let’s look at how we can help Tommy respond’.
  • If there’s a crisis, accept and respect parents who are confused or highly emotional. A crisis can happen to anybody. And it might help to give parents a few minutes to calm their thoughts. One way to do this is by offering to get the parent a glass of water.